Flu vaccinations are the best way to help protect against the flu. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older receive the vaccination. Getting an annual flu shot is particularly important for those who have been affected by lung cancer, including patients, survivors, caregivers, and others who are frequently around a lung cancer patient.
Dr. Amy Moore, a PhD-trained virologist and LUNGevity’s VP of Global Engagement and Patient Partnerships, explains the importance of the flu shot, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
What is a flu shot and how does it work?
A flu shot is a vaccine that provides protection against certain strains of the influenza virus. The flu shot trains your body’s immune system to make antibodies to decrease your chance of getting infected and to decrease the severity of illness if you do get infected.
It is important to note that it takes the body on average 2 weeks after receiving the shot for the vaccination to work (successful development of antibodies).
Can receiving the flu shot cause the flu?
No. Injected flu shots use either inactivated (“killed”) viruses or a single protein from the flu virus to trigger antibody production, while the intranasal vaccine (FluMist) uses weakened viruses that cannot give you flu.
Given it takes approximately 2 weeks before protective antibodies develop following vaccination, a patient can be exposed to the virus just prior to administration of the vaccine or before complete development of antibodies.
In addition, scientists pick the top 3 or 4 flu viruses that are expected to cause the most illness. Some years, the resulting vaccine is a good match to the circulating viruses while in other years the vaccine is a poor match.
Why should patients with lung cancer get a flu shot?
Influenza is a respiratory virus. Given their increased risk for serious flu-related complications, patients with cancer, including lung cancer, should get a flu vaccination.
How important is it for cancer patients and their families to get a flu shot this year?
Amid the ongoing Delta surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC and other medical experts strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated against flu this fall. Medical facilities nationwide are still overburdened with COVID-19 patients, and we need to minimize the risk of people being hospitalized because of flu complications. Additionally, many healthcare leaders are concerned about the risk for co-infection with both flu and the virus that causes COVID-19.
Will getting the flu shot increase the risk of getting COVID-19?
No. Flu is caused by influenza viruses while COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Though flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory viruses and have some overlapping symptoms, the viruses bind different receptors on the cells in our bodies.
Will getting the flu shot reduce someone’s chances of getting COVID-19?
No. Flu and COVID-19 are caused by two different viruses. While the flu shot will not reduce the risk of getting COVID-19, other protective measures, like wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands will greatly reduce the risk of getting infected with either virus.
Can I get my flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?
YES, though you may want to get the shots in separate arms.
Are there any risks for a cancer patient receiving a flu shot?
In patients with a cancer diagnosis, administration of the FluMist nasal vaccine can result in an infection due to it being a weakened live virus. Individuals with cancers should not receive any live virus due to this risk.
The flu shot, which is an inactivated (dead) virus, is the only method an individual with cancer should receive. Family members of patients with cancer, however, can choose to get intranasal FluMist vaccine as long as the patient is not severely immunocompromised, such as someone who has recently undergone a stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
When should you get a flu shot?
Health experts are advising people to get vaccinated this year by the end of October in anticipation of a difficult winter with high flu and COVID-19 activity. Individuals undergoing chemotherapy should receive the flu shot 2 weeks prior to starting or in between cycles.
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, what other precautions can cancer patients and their families take to help avoid getting the flu as well as COVID-19?
The following are other precautionary tips for patients with cancers and their families:
- Avoid large crowds
- Wear masks indoor and when unable to remain 6ft apart
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Frequent hand washing. If soap products are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoid hand shaking
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
The flu can be a potentially dangerous illness for people who have been affected by lung cancer. Every flu season is different, and it is essential those affected by lung cancer, including caregivers and others frequently around someone undergoing treatment, get a flu shot each year to prevent illness. Flu shots are often free with insurance or available at a minimal charge without insurance and are available at doctors’ offices, urgent care clinics, pharmacies, and grocery stores.
Talk to your doctor to learn more.
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