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During a typical year, many of us are likely to put off, neglect, or outright refuse to get our flu shots. Now, with COVID-19 coursing through the country, Americans are feeling more reluctant than ever to visit crowded pharmacies and doctors' offices.
But health officials say that 2020 really isn't the year to skip your shot—and a big reason is the coronavirus.
While the flu is notoriously unpredictable, influenza activity typically starts to increase in October. With COVID-19 not yet under control, we could be looking at the collision of two potentially deadly viruses this fall. (Or, as some are calling it—a "twindemic.")
In the words of CDC Director Robert R. Redfield: "This fall, nothing can be more important than to try to increase the American public's decision to embrace the flu vaccine with confidence."
For starters, flu shots can cut down on the number of trips people take to the doctor. If someone gets sick with the flu and has to go to the hospital or doctor's office, they run a higher risk of being exposed to someone infected with COVID-19.
"Because influenza and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses, they have similar symptoms," says ZOOM+Care CMO, Dr. Erik Vanderlip. "Some people may think they have COVID this fall, but really, they have the flu. The flu shot can help prevent unnecessary trips to the doctor, and reduce the severity of the flu, if you do happen to become infected."
Another reason to get vaccinated is to prevent additional strain on our healthcare system.
It's usual for hospitals to see a bump in admissions due to influenza. This seasonal rise, combined with coronavirus, could quickly overwhelm our healthcare system. And because flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory viruses, doctors treat them with the same limited medical equipment and supplies, including ventilators.
With healthcare facilities already struggling to accommodate COVID-19 patients, they may not be able to handle the additional influx of flu cases. Getting your flu shot can help ease the burden on the healthcare system and preserve life-saving resources.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the CDC warns of the possibility of co-infection—meaning, having flu and COVID-19 simultaneously. Health experts are still studying how common this occurrence is, but contracting COVID-19 on top of the flu could prove devastating for a patient.
“Getting a flu shot lowers the chances you'll get the flu—and if you do, it will most likely be a milder infection,” says Dr. Vanderlip. “We have no idea what co-infection with flu and COVID would be like, and a flu vaccine can limit further exposures by preventing extra trips to the doctor.”
If all of this sounds terrifying, don't panic! Just get your flu shot, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If enough of the U.S. population gets vaccinated—hopefully, more than the 45% who did last flu season—we could head off a nightmare scenario in the coming months.
Even more good news? The pandemic has underscored the importance of handwashing, sanitizing, masking, and social distancing—measures which also curb the spread of flu. So, if the public continues to follow the advice of health experts and gets vaccinated for the flu, we could have the "best flu season" to date, according to Redfield.
Although flu season can last into May and beyond, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated sooner rather than later. That's because it can take two weeks for your body to develop antibodies to protect you against the virus.
To try and ward off a twindemic as flu season approaches, healthcare providers, ZOOM+Care included, have made the vaccine available earlier than usual this year.
“Now is the time to get the flu shot, because we don’t know when the flu wave will be coming,” says Dr. Vanderlip.
No one is immune to the flu, which is why everyone over the age of six months should consider getting vaccinated.
This is especially true for people in high-risk categories, like: