Flu Before Boo: Flu Vaccines Q&A

Carbon Health Editorial Team
October 7, 2022
7 Min

Flu Before Boo! A Discussion With Rob Swanda, PhD and Dr. Justin Young

In an effort to make health science information accessible, Carbon Health has partnered with Rob Swanda, PhD to answer questions about the flu vaccine, from actual people (via Dr. Swanda’s Twitter and newsletter followers). Dr. Swanda is joined by Dr. Justin Young, a southern California regional clinical director at Carbon Health, to tackle influenza-related questions below, and many more in the full-length video discussion found near the bottom of this post.

What is influenza or flu?

Dr. Young: “When it comes to the flu, most of you are probably familiar with influenza or the flu, and in the most basic sense it's the typical cold that we deal with in the winter time, but what makes it just a little bit different is that seasonally we all go through from time to time. Experiencing influenza is an upper respiratory or respiratory infection that's caused by a virus, influenza, and it can lead to mild symptoms of a runny nose, cough, and sore throat. But typically when it hits hard it can lead to body aches, fevers, chills, a lot of discomfort, and really can kind of get people to stay home from school, stay home from work. So it really can impact in a pretty significant way. The symptoms typically are mild, but in some cases, it can be harmful enough that we are experiencing or see patients that will experience complications from the flu, particularly if they have other medical conditions. Certain patients with different respiratory problems or medical issues can impact them and affect them as well. Patients that are immunocompromised or dealing with other medical conditions, cancer patients, in particular, can have some severe impact there. But I think one of the things that are important to keep in mind is that for those patients who had a rough time with Covid infection over the last two and a half years, influenza can hit them pretty hard as well. Each season is going on so we want to make sure that we're being proactive & being very mindful of the ways that influenza can impact us, but also just making sure that we're taking the steps to protect ourselves from the flu.”

Are there different flu vaccines for different age groups?

Dr. Swanda: “Can we kind of break down what the type of flu vaccines are that are on the market? Maybe touch on how they work and then also that there's an age difference. Sometimes someone who is under 65 can receive a certain type, but maybe over 65 there's a different type that they could get?”

Dr. Young: There are a few types and a few varieties. I mean you've got your typical flu vaccine for patients that are typically adults up to age 65. But, when you go beyond and over age 65 typically you want a stronger, more potent, vaccine there for older patients who might be at greater risk. But, then you also think about pediatric patients who might not tolerate a vaccine or getting an actual shot, and so there are also nasal versions of the flu vaccine, like FluMist that also provide that immunity and that protection. So there's just a range of options that are available for patients to consider. And also certain patients are allergic to certain components of the flu vaccine that might not consider getting vaccinated in this way, so there are other precautions and ways that you try to be protective and prevent flu infection throughout the flu season. So those are things to kind of keep in mind and consider and to talk with your physician about.”

Should I get the flu vaccine?

Dr. Swanda: “The top question that came in from everyone is, should I get the vaccine? A lot of people were saying 'I'm healthy' or 'I've never got it before and I don't know if I should get it, so what's your take on if somebody came to you and they were like 'I want to get the vaccine' what do you say?”

Dr. Young: “My answer to that every year is yes. When patients come in and ask we always try to preempt that and say 'hey have you gotten your flu vaccine yet?' We think about that as we start to get to the end of the summer months, we say 'We're getting the new flu vaccine and you might want to go ahead and set up an appointment with your primary doc or to set up an appointment either at your nearby pharmacy.' You could come to Carbon Health obviously for the vaccine as well, but you want to anticipate and get ahead of the curve because again like even if you're the type of person where you're like 'I think I'm healthy, getting a vaccine is preventive. It's to keep you healthy and so to keep you from getting a severe illness, keep you from getting that really bad flu that can come through and kind of knock you out for five to seven days. Those body aches, those chills, when you have the flu you know you have the flu! So, it's really important to prevent that severe disease, that severe flu infection, and keep you on the go. So, even if you think that 'oh my immune system is great, this is just a little bit of added protection to keep you on track and minimize the risk of that kind of severe flu that a lot of people can encounter. Again like I said even though it can be relatively mild it's not without risk and people do die from the flu, so just want to put that out there to make sure that patients are aware that it's something that you got to look out for.”

Dr. Swanda: “And as Justin mentioned earlier this is something that usually happens in the fall and into the winter, and that's when we have a lot of family holidays that are going on and nobody wants to be sick during those times. You want to enjoy it, so having a little bit of an extra layer of protection does not hurt at all.”

Do supplements help to temper or prevent the flu?

Dr. Swanda: “Looking at supplements and micronutrients…how does that relate to the flu? Because a lot of people had questions related to when the flu starts coming around they see ads for, 'take this zinc supplement' or 'take Vitamin C'. So what are your thoughts on those types of micronutrient supplements combating these types of infections?”

Dr. Young: “Yeah, I think it's a great question, and a lot of times patients want to take ownership of their health choices as well. They want to take that into their own hands. So, I'm not opposed to respective supplements, thinking about vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D, that sort of thing. It's not a substitute for vaccines. It's not a substitute for regular wellness visits and annual physicals with your Healthcare Providers. But, ultimately it's part of the package. It's part of your tool kit to make sure that you are making healthy choices for yourself, so regular exercise, a well-balanced diet, regular checkups, and making sure to stay on top of things like your regular appointments if you do have you know diabetes or hypertension. Make sure you're managing your medical condition or medical conditions appropriately, and if you have any questions bring that up and ask your healthcare provider during those visits. When you go in for a flu vaccine, bring it up and say 'hey, I'm also taking these supplements, do you think that would be a great idea?' or 'are there any concerns there?'. So, talking about the whole picture I think is important, and engaging patients in that shared decision-making is key. If you wanted to take a little bit of zinc or vitamin C during flu season, I'm not opposed to it. But again, it's a part of the whole package of what's available in our healthcare toolkit and the decisions that we make for ourselves. So, empowering a patient to do that is fine especially if they're in discussion with their healthcare provider.”

Watch the full conversation posted on October 3rd, 2022.

Rob Swanda, PhD is an mRNA biochemist and science communicator who obtained his PhD from Cornell University in 2021. Follow Rob Swanda, PhD on Twitter: @ScientistSwanda

Dr. Justin Young is a regional clinical director at Carbon Health. Follow Dr. Justin Young on Twitter: @YoungDocJustin

Carbon Health Editorial Team

The Carbon Health Editorial Team is a group of writers, content creators, and thought leaders who are here to empower you to take charge of your health.