As we head into the 2023 flu season, getting a flu shot is important to protect ourselves and our loved ones from flu-related infections and complications. This is true even for the fittest and healthiest among us.

Flu (influenza) is caused by a virus which spreads through respiratory droplets released by the body when we breathe out or when we talk, cough or sneeze.

Depending on an individual’s health status or underlying risk profile, some people can get very sick from the flu virus.

5 good reasons to get your flu vaccination this year

  1. The flu vaccine will help to lower your risk of becoming sick with flu.
  2. Although the flu vaccine doesn’t offer complete protection against getting the flu, it does lower your chances of getting the infection. And, if you do get flu, you’ll recover faster. This means you’re not infectious for as long, which helps limit the spread of infection to others.
  3. If you’re at a high risk of developing a serious influenza illness – like bronchitis and pneumonia – this vaccine is a must.
  4. If you live with a person who is at risk, your vaccine is also a must.
  5. It is still the most effective way to protect you against flu infection and its complications.

“The same preventive measures that protect us from exposure to Covid-19 – like washing hands, wearing masks, practising social distancing, ensuring spaces are well ventilated and isolating when we are sick – also protect us from influenza infection,” says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Discovery Health’s Chief Clinical Officer.

“And, just as Covid-19 vaccination adds a protective layer to our overall armour against the disease, flu vaccines do the same in protecting against influenza.”

Both flu and Covid-19 can cause serious illness

“Most people who get flu have mild illness with symptoms like fever, a dry cough, headaches, muscle and joint pains, a sore throat and runny nose, and generally feeling unwell.

“For some people, getting the flu can result in complications like bronchitis or pneumonia, which may result in them going to hospital,” explains Dr Nematswerani.

• According to the World Health Organization, 290,000 to 650,000 people die of flu-related causes every year worldwide.
• In South Africa, influenza kills between 6,000 and 11,000 people every year according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
• Read the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ (NICD’s) influenza fact sheet for more information.

When should I get my flu shot?

To get the full benefits of the flu vaccine, you should get vaccinated before the start of the flu season which on average is the first week of June.

Ideally, as soon as the 2023 flu vaccine becomes available, which is usually in March or early April, you should get vaccinated.

However, it will still protect you against severe flu and its complications if you have it at any point during the flu season.

“It’s good to get vaccinated early every year to make sure you’re protected against the latest strains of the flu virus,” adds Dr Nematswerani.

According to Dr Nematswerani, flu vaccines are important for anyone who wants to lower their risk of becoming seriously ill from the seasonal flu.

You also don’t have to wait between having your Covid-19 vaccination and flu vaccination. You no longer have to wait 14 days between getting your Covid-19 vaccine and most other vaccines – you can now get many other vaccines at the same time you get your Covid-19 vaccine.

If you’ve had Covid-19, it’s also safe to have the flu vaccine. It will still be effective at helping to lower your risk of being infected with the flu.

We should all get a flu vaccine. But who needs it most?

According to Dr Nematswerani, flu vaccines are important for anyone who wants to lower their risk of becoming seriously ill from the seasonal flu.

She adds, “Many people will be very keen to have their 2022 flu shot as soon as they can, as we can get flu and Covid-19 at the same time.”

Flu vaccines are highly recommended for people most at risk of serious flu, including:

  1. Children aged six months to five years.
  2. People aged 65 or over.
  3. People who have HIV.
  4. People who are pregnant or postpartum (usually, the first six weeks after childbirth) – the flu vaccine is safe to have while breastfeeding.
  5. People living in care facilities (old-age homes, or chronic care and rehabilitation institutions).
  6. People who have a chronic health condition (like asthma, heart or kidney disease, diabetes and so on).
  7. People who have a weakened immune system.

Dr Nematswerani adds, “Anyone who lives with or interacts with people at a high risk of developing severe illness from the flu should also make a point of getting their vaccination.

“This will lower the risk of them becoming infected with flu and passing it on to others.”

How do my medical scheme benefits cover my flu shot?

Discovery Health Medical Scheme pays for one seasonal flu vaccine a year for members who are at a high risk of getting severe flu illness:

  • If you are considered a high risk, the Screening and Prevention Benefit will cover your flu shot every year.
  • If you are not considered to be a high risk, your flu shot is covered from your available day-to-day benefits, if applicable.

If your healthcare provider charges for giving you the vaccine, we will pay for these costs from your available day-to-day benefits.

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