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Importance of flu shots—even in a pandemic

Posted October 05, 2020 by Vivek Bhalla, MD

Clinician give patient a flu shot in arm

With an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and influenza (flu) season now upon us, getting the flu vaccine should be at the top of your family’s to-do list this fall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe both the flu virus and COVID-19 could be running rampant this season. That’s why many medical experts agree this year the flu shot is more important than ever before.

Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and peaks between December and February. So, the best time to receive the flu vaccine is in September and October, before influenza activity begins to increase. The CDC does not advise getting the vaccine any earlier because your protection may be reduced, especially for older people, later in the flu season.

But because so many of us are already taking extra safety precautions to keep us safe — wearing face masks and coverings in public, social distancing and washing, sanitizing our hands frequently — you may be wondering if it is even necessary to get the flu vaccine this year. Is it safe to go out in public to get one, risking exposure to COVID-19?

Find out the many reasons why the CDC and medical experts alike highly recommend everyone 6 months and older get their yearly flu vaccine to protect yourself and your family.

Protects you from influenza

Getting the flu vaccine can help keep you from getting sick with the flu, reduce the severity and length of your illness if you do get it and reduce your risk for a flu-associated hospitalization. In addition, the vaccine can help protect against exposing your vulnerable family and friends, such as grandparents and infants, to the flu.

Catching the flu can be dangerous to you and your family’s health. Flu can be a serious illness, especially for high-risk individuals, including infants, pregnant women, adults 65 and older, and those with chronic conditions, such as asthma. Even in healthy people, the flu has been shown to cause serious complications, such as pneumonia.

Not to mention, if you’re already sick with the flu, it can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to COVID-19. This means, your body may not be able to fight off COVID-19 as easily as it would otherwise.

Reduces your risk for co-infection

The flu shot can reduce your risk for a co-infection because it is possible to catch both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Though they are both contagious respiratory illnesses, different viruses cause them — and having both at the same time can be devastating, no matter how healthy you are.

Both the flu and COVID-19, which share similar symptoms, can result in serious illness and complications, resulting in hospitalization and even death. Not to mention, it can put a lot of strain on your respiratory system and actually decrease your chances for survival.

If you’re at a higher risk for flu complications, you’re likely a high risk for COVID-19. So, it’s especially important high-risk individuals receive the flu vaccine this year.

Reduces strain on healthcare resources

The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of getting the flu, hospitalization from complications and even death. In fact, routine vaccination can help prevent illnesses that lead to unnecessary medical visits and hospitalizations, which further strain the health-care system as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

So while it might be tempting to skip or put off the flu vaccine this year, there are many reasons why it’s very important that you don’t.

Do be aware, however, where you might normally receive your flu vaccine may change this year due to the ongoing pandemic. Some settings that usually provide flu vaccinations, like workplaces, may not offer them this upcoming season to reduce someone’s exposure to COVID-19.

Instead, your doctor’s office, pharmacy and any other vaccination location following the CDC’s guidelines should be a safe place to receive your flu vaccine.

If you suspect or have a confirmed case of COVID-19, you should defer your flu vaccine until you are well or no longer in isolation.

You can receive your flu shot at most Summa Health doctor offices (please call your physician’s office for details) and at your local, community pharmacies.

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