Why Do Caregivers Need Flu Vaccines?

Flu vaccines are recommended for nearly everyone now, but there are some groups of people that need them more than others. People who are in high risk groups such as older adults, infants, and young children, those with chronic health conditions, and pregnant women are more likely to have serious complications if they get the flu, so vaccination is especially important.

What you may not realize is getting a flu vaccine if you care for someone in one of these high risk groups is equally important.

Flu Shots for Caregivers

When you are caring for someone who is at high risk for complications from the flu, you need to take every precaution you can to protect both the person you are caring for and yourself from illness. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. Although they aren't perfect, they offer the best protection we have against influenza.

If you think you will just avoid being around the high risk individual while you are sick, it really doesn't work that way when it comes to the flu. You are actually contagious when you have influenza a full 24 hours before your symptoms appear. So you might feel fine, but you are already spreading the virus to the people around you.

Why It's Important

If you have ever been in a position to take care of someone in your personal life or in your professional life, you know it is a big responsibility. The decisions you make and the care you provide could make a significant difference in someone else's life. In some cases, it could be the difference between life and death.

Even if you are healthy and active and the flu is unlikely to cause you serious problems, that may not be the case for the person you are caring for. The flu can be debilitating for a person that is at high risk. It kills thousands of people each year and puts hundreds of thousands in the hospital in the United States alone. A simple flu vaccine could prevent that for the person or people that you care for.

What If It Doesn't Work for Me?

There are times when the flu vaccine is not as effective as we would like. Sometimes people who get the vaccine still end up with the flu. It's frustrating for everyone, but studies have shown that even when the vaccine is not a good match to circulating viruses, that people who have been vaccinated typically experience milder symptoms and a shorter duration of illness.

It's also important to know that the flu vaccine does not prevent every illness. It only prevents influenza. There are other respiratory and stomach viruses that circulate during the winter months that cause similar symptoms to the flu but are not caused by influenza. Fortunately for all of us, most of them are much less severe than influenza and typically don't lead to hospitalization or death.

Why Do I Need a Vaccine If the Person I'm Caring for Had One? 

Many people who are in high risk groups can and should get the flu vaccine themselves. One of the few exceptions to this is infants under 6 months old. The flu vaccine is not approved for those under 6 months or anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine or an ingredient in the vaccine in the past.

However, even those who can get vaccinated may not be fully protected against the flu with the vaccine. Older adults tend to have immune systems that don't function as well as they once did, making it harder for the body to develop an immune response to the strains of the flu that are included in the vaccine. This is the reason the high dose flu vaccine was developed for adults over the age of 65 in the US.

People that have chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease, or cancer may also have weakened immune systems that do not respond as well to the flu vaccine as they would otherwise.

Ensuring that you have your flu vaccine if you are caring for someone in a high risk group adds another layer of protection to keep them as healthy as possible.

Caregivers in the Workplace

There are some professions that put you at the front lines of caregiving. If you work in a health care facility, daycare, school, or you are a first responder, you are most likely around high risk populations more frequently than other people. Many people in these professions are required to get flu shots, but even if your employer does not require it, you should. Both for your own protection and to protect the people you work with.

If you take care of someone in a high risk population - whether it is your child, your parent, your spouse, another family member or a friend - or you work in a setting where you are around these people, get your yearly flu vaccine.

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Article Sources

  • Protecting Against Influenza (Flu): Advice for Caregivers of Young Children | Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/infantcare.htm. 
  • What You Should Know and Do this Flu Season If You Are 65 Years and Older | Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/65over.htm. 
  • What’s the Latest With the Flu? A Message for Caregivers & Teachers. HealthyChildren.org. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Whats-the-Latest-with-the-Flu-A-Message-for-Caregivers-and-Teachers.aspx.