As the U.S. continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic, there is another infectious respiratory disease that has continued looming: influenza.
As the flu season approaches, epidemiologists and health experts warn that the addition of another respiratory illness on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could overburden the health care system, strain testing capacity, and increase the risk of catching both diseases concurrently.
Flu vaccination has some important benefits. It can reduce illness from the flu, amount of doctors’ visits, missed work and school days, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations or deaths. The flu shot may be more important this year than ever!
Unlike COVID-19, the flu is a familiar foe, and a safe and effective vaccine is made available every year. However, there are still many people out there wondering if they should still get a flu shot this year.
The real question: Who needs a flu shot?
“The answer to the question ‘Why should you get a flu vaccine?’ is the same this year as it is every year. But there are some additional reasons why it’s extra beneficial to get [it] this year,” says Emily Landon, Executive Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at the University of Chicago.
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions. Vaccination is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza. If you think you may have a High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications, please refer to the linked article for a full list of age and health factors that confer increased risk.
When should I get vaccinated?
You may be wondering, when’s the best time to get the flu shot? Is there an advantage to getting it sooner rather than later? Or is it better to wait until later in the season? Here’s the info you need, based on the advice of our health experts.
You should get a flu vaccine before flu viruses begin spreading in your community since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against flu.
Flu season typically begins around November. The combined burden of the flu and COVID-19 could overwhelm hospitals and testing sites, so make plans to get vaccinated early in the fall, before flu season begins. The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, getting vaccinated early (for example, in July or August) is more highly associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults.
Vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season. Children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.
What if you miss the chance to get early access to a flu shot?
If you miss the optimal window of getting vaccinated before the end of October, as the CDC recommends, you should still get vaccinated. The flu season extends into April and May – even if it’s January or February, get it done. It’s not too late.
Kids are a special case: The CDC recommends that children ages 6 months thru 8 years who need two doses should get their first dose as soon as possible after the vaccine becomes available so that they can get their second dose by the end of October (the two doses should be given at least four weeks apart). Even if they get their first shot in early to mid-September, they should be able to get their second one before Halloween.
Let’s circle back, What’s the difference between the flu and COVID-19?
The flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and the flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.
Because some of the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.
While more is learned every day, there is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it.
It is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, according to the WHO.
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If you have questions about which flu vaccine to get, talk to your family doctor at The Village Doctor or another health care professional.