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Posted September 13, 2021 by Thomas File, MD and Shanu Agarwal, MD
Last winter, the community took several precautions to help stop the spread of COVID-19. From masks and social distancing to virtual work and school to cancelled events, an unforeseen positive side effect was a less intense flu season.
Flu cases documented during last year’s flu season were historically low by a wide margin. Medical professionals haven’t seen anything like it.
So with many precautions still in place amidst an ongoing pandemic, you may be wondering: is it even necessary to get this year’s flu shot?
Summa Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health agencies across the country offer a resounding yes. In fact, medical experts are warning families of a potentially difficult flu season this year.
Many of the mandates enforced by law last winter are being lifted and strict precautions against COVID-19 are being relaxed, as people desperately try to get back to normal activity.
What’s more, mild flu seasons are often followed by bad ones because not enough natural immunity has been built up. When people recover from the flu, they retain some level of immunity that protects them against further infection. Because not many were sick with the flu last year, we may be entering this year’s flu season with a higher level of susceptibility than usual.
So while it might be tempting to skip or put off the flu vaccine this year, there are many reasons why it’s important that you don’t — especially if you’re at higher risk for severe illness. It’s a proven way to protect you and your family against the flu and its potentially serious complications.
Summa Health answers your top 5 questions about this year’s flu shot and why the CDC and medical experts agree getting it this year is more important than ever.
Who should get the flu shot?
The CDC highly recommends everyone 6 months and older, including those who are pregnant, get a yearly flu vaccine to protect yourself and your family and to reduce spread within the community. It is even more important this year since influenza and COVID-19 are likely to be present in the community at the same time and they share common manifestations of illness. Furthermore, dual infection is possible and may be associated with worse outcomes. So it is important to prevent each of these infections with their respective vaccines.
Your primary care provider’s office, pharmacy and any other vaccination location following the CDC’s guidelines are safe places to receive your flu vaccine.
When should I get the flu shot?
Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and peaks between December and February, and can last until May. So, the best time to receive the flu vaccine is in September and October.
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.
Is it safe to get the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines together?
Yes. The CDC’s Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices now confirms it is safe to receive both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at or around the same time.
Do I need the flu shot if I’m not at high risk for complications?
Yes. 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, those who are pregnant, adults 65 and older, and those with chronic conditions, such as asthma. But even in healthy people, the flu has been shown to cause serious complications, such as pneumonia. Also the higher the % of persons within the community who are vaccinated the less will be transmission within the community
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.
Why is the flu shot more important during a pandemic?
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.
In addition, the flu shot can reduce your risk for a co-infection. Though the flu and COVID-19 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.
This season, the CDC is preparing for the flu virus to return to pre-pandemic levels, evidenced by healthcare providers who are now seeing other typical respiratory illnesses, such as RSV, returning in high numbers. So don’t delay. It’s especially important to get your flu shot this year.