The 2020 Flu Shot is More Important than Ever, Experts Say

Get ready for a “mega-campaign” of flu immunization efforts across the country in parking lots, doctors’ offices and socially distanced appointments. Here’s why it’s important, and how to do it safely.

While some people incorrectly believe getting a flu shot is worthless or gives you the flu, it actually is actually one of the most important things you can do for your health and others’—especially in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts always recommend flu shots for nearly every demographic—children, adults and elderly individuals alike. This year, in the midst of the pandemic, getting immunization to the flu is extra important, explains one NPR article.

Experts say people can and should get their shots as early as September 1 this year at doctors’ offices, pharmacies and supermarkets. Even though typical flu season begins in October and peaks between December and February, the changes brought on by COVID-19 means it is time to start thinking about when, how and where you can get immunized.

Coronavirus’ prevalence in the U.S. this year means you really do not want the flu. A combination of both viruses, or one after the other, may mean bad news for your health, respiratory health and overall ability to recover. Experts are not sure what having both could mean for your health.

“We don’t yet know whether that could compound either illness, but why take the risk,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

If you usually get a shot at the office but you are now working from home, you’ll have to make another plan. If you usually stop into the pharmacy or supermarket while you’re running errands, you will have to make an intentional trip to get a shot. You will need a plan this year, say experts.

“People who can avoid the flu will help reduce the burden on a U.S. health care system already overwhelmed by COVID-19,” said Mark Thompson, an epidemiologist in the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emergency rooms and urgent care clinics are already overwhelmed flu patients during winter months. Getting a flu shot can keep you from getting sick and prevent you from co-mingling flu patients with COVID-19 patients, who can infect each other and spread their viruses to other patients.

Do not forget that while the flu has a vaccine, tens of thousands of people with the flu are hospitalized each year. Because the flu and COVID-19 share many (not all) symptoms—including fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue—loss of taste and smell are specific symptoms of COVID-19.

Additionally, many people do die from the flu annually—the CDC reports that between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths from the flu occur each year.

Still, over half of Americans eligible for a flu shot do not immunized in a typical year, according to CDC data. As the NPR reiterates, people often refrain from getting a shot for fear that it will give them severe side effects (which “are very rare”), fear it will give them the flu (“it won’t”), the belief that the flu is not that serious (“it can cause severe illness and death”) and an aversion to vaccines in general.

The flu vaccine is neither perfect nor designed for every strain of flu. Each vaccine is designed at the end of each flu season, based on the most prevalent strains of flu circulating at the time. Experts design the flu vaccine after predicting which will be the most common strains in the following season.

Often times, too, the vaccine can lessen a person’s severity of flu symptoms, even if they do get the flu. “If you get a flu shot and then get the flu, you may be less likely to get a severe case. That could make it less likely you'll head to the doctor or the ER — just when they're filled with COVID-19 patients,” said L.J Tan, the chief strategy officer at the Immunization Action Coalition.

Below are a few messages from the American Medical Association:

  • “If you're hesitant about getting a flu shot because you've had a severe reaction in the past, check with your doctor about your best strategy this year. Nearly everyone over 6 months old should be immunized against the flu.”
  • “September and October are the best times to be vaccinated to achieve immunity throughout the flu season, though getting the shot later is better than not at all.”
  • “It takes two weeks after your flu shot to achieve full immunity, so steer clear until then of anyone who has flu symptoms.”

The AMA also recommends reaching out to your local doctor’s office to see where the nearest place to get a flu shot might be. Usually, flu shots are free for anyone with Medicare Part B, employer health insurance or other insurance that conforms to the Affordable Care Act, as well as for many Medicaid beneficiaries. You also might be able to ask your employer if they are offering any onsite locations to get your shot.

During the coronavirus pandemic, getting immunized against the flu is vital for your health and others, especially as the colder months approach.

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