How the flu vaccine works and how it can save you a trip to the hospital

The flu vaccine protects you against multiple strains of the virus

The flu season is here and medical experts say the best way to protect yourself against it is by getting the vaccine.

“It can reduce your chances if you get exposed. Most importantly, it significantly reduces your chance of going to the hospital and we have good studies that show if you end up in the hospital, you’re less likely to go to the ICU and less likely to die,” said Dr. Jason Bowling, Chief Epidemiologist at University Health.

The flu season typically begins in October and can last all the way through May.

Health officials say it’s tricky to predict how active a flu season will be. However, they do look to the Southern Hemisphere for help. The Southern Hemisphere’s flu season is before us and health officials can predict how our flu season will look based on theirs. This year, they had a tough flu season, so health officials believe ours could be bad as well.

“We’re really trying to get that protection onboard before we see the highest level of flu activity in our community,” Dr. Bowling said.

So what exactly does the flu vaccine do?

According to Dr. Bowling, the vaccine exposes your body to parts of the flu. After the body is exposed to the virus, it is able to generate antibodies to fight the flu. Those antibodies can last many months in your body after you get the vaccine.

The most current form of the flu vaccine has four strains of the virus in it. There are two A strains and two B strains.

“It’s really important for people to get the updated flu vaccine every year because that’s the best way to prevent the flu,” said. Dr. Bowling.

D. Bowling says it’s important to note that the vaccine will not totally prevent you from getting the flu.

Anyone can get the flu, but those at the highest risk factor for infection are the elderly, children under the age of 5 and people with underlying medical conditions.

To help with flu vaccines, University Health is hosting a series of drive-thru flu vaccine clinics. Their next event will be on Oct. 21. The flu shots will be free and you can register online.

When it comes to the sick season, the flu isn’t the only thing to worry about. There is also COVID-19, RSV and other illnesses.

“Really important for everyone to protect themselves, to protect their family members, to try to make it a less serious illness if you do get it,” said Dr. Rosha McCoy, Senior Director for Advancing Clinical Leadership and Quality at the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine are recommended for anyone over the age of 6 months. There is no combination vaccine for either illness. However, it is safe to get both vaccines at the same time.

“If you put something off quite often, it doesn’t happen. So, if you’re going to get one vaccine, you can get all of them at the same time,” Dr. McCoy said.

RSV mainly affects babies but it can also be found in adults over the age of 60. For parents of newborns, Dr. McCoy says it’s important to know the symptoms of RSV as it is one of the most common reasons babies go to the hospital during the wintertime.

Those symptoms include:

  • Presents like a bad cold
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hard time feeding

To learn how you can help treat RSV, click here.

About the Author:

Halee Powers is a KSAT producer primarily focused on digital newscasts and events.