Why should I get a FLU shot during this pandemic year?
Experts feel that it is extremely important during this pandemic to get your flu shot and feel that it is best to do it earlier in the fall rather than waiting. Fortunately flu vaccines are now readily available at doctors offices and pharmacies and physicians and public health officers are encouraging people to get vaccinated. 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 care providers in the US, resulting 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 centers and the ER, lessening the burden on the healthcare system and preventing co-mingling of flu patients and COVID patients. 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.) The 2019-2020 US flu vaccine was 40% effective on average (higher than in the two prior seasons)— meaning that it reduced the chances by 40% that someone exposed to the virus had symptoms severe enough to visit a doctor or hospital.
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! If you are a patient of The Village Doctor, call or email to schedule a visit for your flu shot (it can be given outside during a quick visit). Alternatively, most pharmacies offer walk-in visits for flu vaccines or you may be able to find a flu clinic as well. If you have a student away at school, make sure they remember to visit student health to get their flu shot done. Remember that it takes about two weeks after getting the shot to develop full immunity, so earlier is best this year.
(Jackie Phillips, MD, October 5, 2020)