By Dr. Dave A. Chokshi
Flu season is just beginning in New York City, and already my two-year-old daughter, my wife, and I have all received our seasonal flu vaccination. I encourage everyone to join us, to protect yourself and your community.
Every year, the Health Department works to make the flu vaccine easily available because the influenza virus can cause painful, and potentially life-threatening, symptoms—even in healthy people. In a typical flu season, roughly 2,000 New Yorkers die from influenza and pneumonia, and some of them are kids.
That is why we are recommending all New Yorkers ages six months and older to get the flu shot, especially people who are most likely to get sick, including adults ages 50 and older, pregnant people, children ages 6 months to 5 years, and people with chronic diseases like diabetes. The flu vaccine is safe and effective: Scientific evidence shows that it reduces the risk of illness between 40% and 60%, according to the CDC. If you’re 65 or older, ask your doctor about the high-dose flu vaccine.
I was proud to see a record number of adult New Yorkers get the flu vaccine last year. Over 1.4 million adults got vaccinated—the most ever. Our goal this year is to have another record-breaking year, and we are well on our way with 1,039,787 adult New Yorkers already vaccinated.
But despite our progress, we are still seeing troubling gaps in coverage. This is due in part to misinformation about the flu vaccine and mistrust in medical advice. I want to make clear to New Yorkers that the flu vaccine will not give you the flu. Young and healthy people can become severely ill. And getting a flu shot will not increase your risk of getting COVID-19. These are common myths, and we know we must address them in order to instill trust in the vaccine.
In addition, not enough children are getting vaccinated. Our data show that only 67% of children ages 6 months to 5 years were vaccinated last year, and this year’s numbers are also looking low. With children returning to schools and families out and about in our city again, it’s even more critical than ever to protect our littlest New Yorkers.
The flu vaccine is now widely available across the city for free or low-cost and regardless of immigration status. New Yorkers can find out where to get vaccinated at NYC.gov/FLU. And if you still haven’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, you can get one at the same time as the flu vaccine. Remember that the flu vaccine doesn’t protect you against COVID-19, and the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t protect you against the flu. You need both!
Serious reactions to the flu shot are extremely rare. Common reactions may include mild pain, redness or swelling at the injection site or headache, fever and muscle aches.
As a doctor and a father, I wouldn’t ask New Yorkers to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. Flu activity usually starts as early as November and continues through late spring, and it takes a couple of weeks for your vaccine to kick in with immunity. Now is the right time, so go get that flu shot today.