By Purvi Parikh, MD

Fever. Body aches. Exhaustion. Constant coughing. Hours ago, you were at work, feeling fine, and now all you want to do is crawl under the covers.

You might have avoided the flu – if you had listened to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and countless medical experts who recommend the flu vaccine for everyone older than 6 months.

Why people with asthma should get vaccinated

The flu virus attacks the respiratory system, so people with asthma are at greater risk for complications. It can cause inflamed airways and lungs and trigger asthma flares. It can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia. Given that 24+ million people in the United States have asthma, and 10 people die from the disease daily, protection is vital.

Others at risk of serious complications due to flu include adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years – especially those younger than 2.

What too many people ignore is that flu is preventable. The flu vaccine – available at your doctor’s office, community clinic, pharmacy and some supermarkets – is the best insurance against developing flu and passing it on to others in your family or community.

Vaccination is particularly important for family members and others in contact with high-risk groups or infants too young for a flu shot. The more people get the vaccine, the more we reduce the number of people carrying and spreading the virus. It’s called “herd immunity” and it not only protects you but also those with weaker immune systems.

Flu Shot Tips

  • Most flu vaccines contain a very small amount of egg protein; however CDC says egg allergy is no longer a reason to avoid the vaccine. If you or your child is allergic to egg and you’re concerned about an allergy to the shot, see a board-certified allergist for testing.
  • Do not get the flu shot if you are recovering from a cold or already have flu symptoms. Your immune system is in overdrive at that point and the vaccine may not take hold.
  • Since many school-age children have a persistent runny nose or cough from the first day of school to the last, it may be difficult to schedule your child’s flu shot between sniffles and wheezes. Your best bet is to keep children as healthy as possible, teach good hygiene and talk to your doctor about the best time to get the flu shot. Frequent handwashing and staying home when sick are also vital steps to staying healthy.

What about the pneumonia vaccine?

Pneumonia or pneumococcal immunization programs in recent years have led to a substantial reduction in infection caused by strains of pneumococcal bacteria. There are two types of pneumonia vaccines recommended by CDC.

PCV13, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 13:

  • children younger than 5 years old;
  • adults 65 years or older;
  • people 6-64 years old with certain high-risk conditions (that do not include asthma and COPD).

PPSV23, pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine:

  • adults 65 years or older;
  • people 2-64 years old with long-term health conditions including lung disease;
  • anyone who has asthma or is a smoker;
  • patients 18 years or older deemed necessary to receive the vaccine by their doctor

Discuss the pneumonia vaccine with your doctor, as some people should receive both PCV13 and PPSV23 vaccines.

Purvi Parikh, MD, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist in New York City and a member of the Board of Directors for the Advocacy Council of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.