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The Importance of the Flu Shot in Fall 2020

By: Carolyn Mish, Contributing Writer

While a case of seasonal flu may seem inconsequential to the average person, this year minimizing the seasonal flu’s impact on vulnerable populations is vital to preventing avoidable hospitalizations and complications associated with both the flu and COVID-19.

Last year, just 45% of American adults received the recommended flu vaccine. This statistic doesn’t allow for herd immunity to fully take effect. The idea of herd immunity is that when a large portion of the population has been exposed to an illness (either through vaccination or prior exposure) they develop immunity and the spread of the illness is slowed or stopped. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receives the seasonal flu vaccine.

Most of us have experienced the flu at some point during our lives; the unpleasant symptoms of fever, cough, headaches, fatigue, and runny nose are familiar to those who come into contact with many people during the fall and winter months. A majority of healthy, young adults will not need to be hospitalized with the flu. However, everyone should still receive their vaccinations. Infants, immunocompromised people, and the elderly are all at increased risk for complications from the flu. Some of these complications would require hospitalization and can even lead to death. During a pandemic where hospitals are packed with COVID-19 cases, preventable visits to the hospital should be minimized. By getting the flu vaccine, you not only reduce your risk of contracting the flu, but if you do get the flu, you can lessen the severity of your case. The vaccine lowers the risk for complications and the ultimate mortality rate of the flu.

To protect these vulnerable populations and avoid overwhelming an already stretched thin healthcare system, getting your flu shot is integral to maintaining public health this fall.

A new factor in public safety this year is COVID-19. While getting your flu shot will not reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19, it’s still incredibly important in maintaining lower case numbers and minimizing the spread of coronavirus.

If you do contract the flu, any damage done to your respiratory or immune systems can put you at greater risk for a worse case of COVID-19. This will impede on your recovery as you are more vulnerable due to your prior illness. Coinfection, while not fully studied and understood, has shown to increase the length of hospital stays in patients who have contracted both the flu and COVID-19.

Although many people in the United States are minimizing their contact with people outside of their social bubbles, herd immunity is still very important. While children may not be in school, they can still spread the flu effectively. During the pandemic, giving what may be a mild case of flu for you to a more vulnerable person could seriously harm their health and the health of those around them. Along with getting your flu shot, it’s vital to maintain CDC guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19. Regular hand washing, maintaining 6 feet of distance from other people, wearing effective masks and face coverings, and avoiding large gatherings can all help you and those you care about stay healthy.

Because the seasonal flu and COVID-19 can have similar symptoms, minimizing your risk of the former is important in the event that you do contract COVID-19. This can help your healthcare provider effectively treat you and avoid damage to your health. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care provider if you experience fever, chills, ongoing respiratory symptoms, and COVID specific happenings such as loss of taste or smell.

While heading to a doctor’s office or pharmacy during a pandemic may seem irresponsible, getting your flu shot is worth the minimal risk. Doctors offices are taking appropriate precautions to ensure both your safety and the safety of the staff. This will include temperature screenings, symptom checks, and personal protective equipment. You can make an appointment to receive your flu shot or look into a local walk-in clinic, and if you’re not sure about your options, check in with your primary care provider.

Pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid also offer vaccinations. These are a great option if you need a more accessible place to get vaccinated. These pharmacies often have walk-in clinics but also offer appointments. Pharmacists and pharmacy techs who administer vaccines also use social distancing and PPE to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Experts recommend that this year, it’s best to receive your flu vaccine before the end of October. Flu shots can take 10-14 days to render immunity, and by the end of October flu season will be active enough to warrant a need for immunity. By getting your flu shot as soon as possible, you protect yourself and those around you, and contribute to a community committed to public health and safety.

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