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Get Your Flu Shot Now

By Tom Cirillo

Health experts are recommending more than ever that people with diabetes get their flu shot this year to reduce the chances of getting sick with both flu and COVID-19. Learn about your vaccine options, where to get them, and how the flu can affect people with diabetes

The American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association recently released a joint statement urging people to get flu shots this season. These organizations, along with countless others, are encouraging people to get a flu vaccination because of concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic may overburden the healthcare system this winter. In addition, without a flu vaccine, there is an increased chance of catching both viruses at once. Many of the symptoms of the flu are also symptoms of COVID-19. Check out our piece from earlier this year, “Flu Shots are Even More Important in a Pandemic” for clues on telling the difference between flu and COVID-19 – it’s harder than it looks!

Diabetes can complicate the recovery from both the flu and COVID-19 due to fluctuating glucose levels and a weakened immune system. Even if glucose levels tend to be stable, it’s important that people with diabetes do everything they can to avoid becoming infected and remain healthy. Getting a flu shot every year is one of the main preventive measures – and most insurance plans in the US (including Medicare Part B and Medicaid in many states) provide free flu vaccination! The CDC urges, and the ADA also strongly emphasizes, the importance of everyone in your household also getting a flu shot – you are significantly less likely to get the flu if the people you live with are also immunized, so please remind them if this hasn’t happened.

Between 5% and 20% of the US population will get the flu each year. And harm from the flu is often underestimated. Last year alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that there were 38 million cases of flu, leading to 400,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths. 22,000! Each year a new flu vaccine is created to provide protection from the new strains of flu that scientists predict will be troublesome. Believe it or not, in years when the vaccine is well-matched to the virus, it reduces a person’s risk of illness between 40% to 60%. Last year about 52% of the population got a flu vaccine, which is estimated to have prevented 7.5 million illnesses, 105,000 hospitalizations, and 6,300 deaths. How can we make this percentage far higher for people with diabetes? Send us your best idea(s) and we’ll send you a free copy of Dr. David Kessler’s Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs!

It is by no means too late to get your flu shot – and in 2020, you want to be ahead of the curve, so do it now! Flu infections peak in February, and your flu shot will start protecting you from about two weeks after you receive it, for about six months. Use this amazing resource from Boston Children’s Hospital, the CDC, HealthMap, and Harvard Medical School to locate pharmacies and other facilities close to you where you can receive your vaccination. It showed 642 places within 50 miles of us right here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

There are several kinds of flu vaccines that people can receive.

  • Flu shots (injected using a needle) are recommended for people with diabetes. There are different flu shots available, with some being approved for people of specific ages.

  • The nasal spray vaccine is generally not recommended for people with diabetes.

  • Flu vaccine by jet injector (rather than needle) is approved for people between the ages of 18 and 64.

Talk with your healthcare team about your flu vaccine options to determine which is best for you.

Being sick with the flu can make it more difficult to manage your diabetes. If you do become sick, be sure to follow your sick-day plan. “People with diabetes experience more hyperglycemic events, and substantial increases in pneumonia, sepsis [inflammation resulting from your immune response to infection] and coronary heart disease after being diagnosed with the flu,” said Dr. Robert Gabbay, the ADA’s Chief Scientific & Medical Officer. “If an individual does get the flu, being vaccinated [usually reduces the symptoms of the flu and] helps them avoid more serious health consequences.”

It is easy to get vaccinated from your healthcare team or a pharmacy offering flu shots, including a grocery store pharmacy. If you are currently experiencing flu-like or other respiratory symptoms (such as fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, cough, runny nose), you should contact your healthcare team right away. There are anti-viral medications they can prescribe that can shorten the time you are sick and the severity of your illness.

In addition to the flu shot, there is another vaccine that you should receive: the pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine. This vaccine is about 60% effective at preventing lung infections (pneumonia) and other infections caused by the bacteria responsible for pneumonia. People with diabetes are also at greater risk of contracting pneumonia. The ADA recommends the pneumonia vaccine (which is also covered by most insurance plans) for all people with diabetes older than age 2. Right now, only about one-third of people with diabetes take advantage of this vaccine, so this is a great opportunity to reduce the number of cases of pneumonia. Depending on your age and underlying conditions you’ll need between one and three doses of the vaccine to keep you protected for the rest of your life. Be sure to talk to your healthcare team to determine the correct number of shots you’ll need, and when.

When thinking about keeping yourself healthy and reducing the risk of getting some combination of flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19 this winter, there is some good news. Strictly following the guidelines to avoid the coronavirus, such as mask wearing, frequent handwashing, and avoiding touching your face, also protects you from flu and pneumonia. Those precautions, plus getting the highly effective flu and pneumonia vaccines, are your best bet for staying healthy this winter and beyond.

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