Why getting a flu shot is so important when you have IBD

It's that time of year when everyone starts talking about flu season and sharing flu shot selfies, but this year, much like everything else, the importance of it and the focus has shifted.

As an immunocompromised IBD mom of two, I recognize the importance of being vigilant with my healthcare and doing all I can to keep my family safe from not only COVID but influenza.

The importance of the flu shot for Crohn's and UC patients

As the winter months approach, there is cause for concern with what some physicians are calling the "Twindemic."

For those of us with IBD, we are at a 30% higher risk of getting the flu and then having complications such as pneumonia.1 While the vaccine isn't a complete cure-all, it does provide added protection.

And I don't know about you, but I'm covering all my bases and then some this year to stay out of the hospital and out of harm's way.

Each fall my gastroenterologist checks in with me to make sure I have received my flu shot. It's a family affair in my household.

I took both my toddlers to the pediatrician this week and my husband will get his taken care of at work. This provides further protection for each of us, even though I'm the only one in my family that is immunocompromised and has Crohn's.

Negativity in the IBD community around the flu shot

Dealing with the naysayers is difficult. Whenever you talk about vaccines there is going to be backlash and there are going to be naysayers.

When I shared my flu shot selfie with the patient community on my Instagram page (@natalieannhayden), I received direct messages telling me I was "putting metal in my body", that "immunocompromised people should not get the flu shot", and that the "flu shot increases your risk of COVID". None of these claims are true. Rather the opposite.

Preventing the flu during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you're immunocompromised, it's highly recommended you receive the flu shot as your immune system is not equipped to handle the virus-like the rest of the population. The flu shot does not increase your risk of COVID in any way or protect you from it. At the same time, if people received the flu shot and later got COVID, the chance of having both at the same time is significantly reduced.2

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to prevent the flu is by getting a vaccine every year. The vaccine takes two weeks to be effective, so that is why it's recommended before or during the month of October.3

That being said, it's not too late to receive it after that. It's recommended all patients with IBD receive the inactivated influenza vaccine--not the nasal spray, which is live.2

It can be disheartening as a patient advocate and as an IBD mom to receive hurtful messages when all you are doing is taking every step to protect your health and that of your loved ones.

Preventative measures to protect my health

Just as I get colonoscopies once a year, take my biologic injection twice a month, and do lab work every three months, I consider getting my flu shot on the same level of importance for keeping my health in check.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness. COVID is a respiratory illness. Can you even begin to imagine what it would be like to have both while taking on IBD?! It's imperative as a patient community that we do all we can to empower and protect ourselves as the winter months approach.

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