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Should I Get A Flu Shot During COVID? And If So, When?

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Yes, this flu season it is extremely important to get your flu shot and best to do it earlier in the fall rather than waiting. In fact, you can expect a strong campaign from public health officers and physicians to increase flu vaccine rates and decrease the spread of influenza this winter. This year, vaccine firms will be producing 190 million doses (an increase of 20 million from years prior) and hopefully, vaccine rates will be higher than 50%, which they unfortunately have not been in the past. Manufacturers currently have the ability to make more if needed during the season, but that could change if a COVID vaccine is approved as there will be more competition for supplies at that point.

Preliminary CDC data for last flu season (October 2019-May 2020), showed that the flu was a factor in 18 million visits to health providers in the US and resulted in 410,000 hospitalizations and around 64,000 deaths. Getting a flu shot may help prevent influenza altogether, or at least lessen the symptoms, and thus will likely decrease visits to urgent care and the ER, lessening the burden on the healthcare system and preventing co-mingling of flu patients and COVID patients. The 2019-2020 US flu vaccine was  40% effective on average — meaning that it reduced the chances by 40% that someone exposed to the virus had symptoms severe enough to visit a doctor or hospital. That 40% effectiveness is generally what they expect and was better than the 2 prior seasons. The vaccine also of course helps prevent people who may only have mild illness from spreading the flu to those at higher risk of severe disease (babies, older people and those with compromised immune systems.) 

Many, but not all, symptoms of flu are similar to those of COVID,  including fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Given the similarities, it’s likely that some people who normally wouldn’t require a doctors’ visit for the flu will be encouraged to see a physician or go to the emergency room for flu-like symptoms. There is also concern that having both diseases at the same time could be dangerous, as Dr. Ashish Jha (director of Harvard Global Health Institute) says, “We don’t know yet whether that could compound either illness, but why take the risk?”  

So, get your flu shot as soon as it is available to you! We should be getting our supply delivered to The Village Doctor in early to mid-September and will let our patients know how to schedule safe vaccine appointments as soon as the shots are available. There will also be vaccines available at pharmacies, supermarkets and presumably drive-up clinics will be available elsewhere given that many people who normally get vaccines through their employers may not be able to do so this year. Remember that it takes about two weeks after getting the shot to develop full immunity, so earlier is best this year.

(Jackie Phillips, MD,  August 10, 2020)