Did you know that African Americans are more likely to have the chronic diseases that are known to increase the risk of flu complications? People with long-term health conditions—such as asthma, diabetes (type 1 and 2) and heart disease—are at greater risk for serious complications from the flu, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. But keep in mind that even healthy people can get sick enough from the flu to miss work or school for a significant amount of time, and can suffer serious flu complications which can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a flu vaccine is the first and best way to guard against the flu, and recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year.
The good news is that getting a yearly flu vaccine is a simple step you can take to protect yourself and your family. The bad news is that while flu vaccination rates among adults are increasing, many African Americans are still not getting a yearly flu vaccine.
Why are so few African Americans getting the flu vaccine? Some people may have concerns about vaccine safety. It is important to know, however, that millions of flu vaccines have been given for more than 50 years and they have a very good safety track record. Flu vaccine safety is closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s also important to know that the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. The most common side effects from a flu shot are a sore arm and maybe a low fever or achiness. The nasal-spray flu vaccine might cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or cough. If you do experience these side effects, they are usually mild and short-lived. And that’s much better than getting sick and missing several days of school or work or possibly getting a very severe illness and needing to go to the hospital. If you get flu-like symptoms soon after getting vaccinated, it can mean you may have been exposed to the flu before getting vaccinated, or during the two-week period it takes the body to gain protection after vaccination. It might also mean you are sick with another illness that causes symptoms similar to the flu.