With COVID-19 still making daily headlines, flu season may seem insignificant, small, and far away.
But trust us when we say—it’s coming, and it’s more important than ever to prepare for it.
With a potential “twindemic” looming, health experts urge people to get a flu shot ASAP. Not only can getting vaccinated help preserve hospital beds, staff, and medical resources, but it can help your year suck a little bit less. (Seriously, who wants to add “catching the flu” to the list of reasons why 2020 can just see itself out?)
Since this flu season is unlike any other, you probably have all kinds of questions—and we’re here to answer them. Here’s what you need to know about getting vaccinated during a global pandemic.
The flu and COVID-19 are basically the same, right?
COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory viruses, and they have similar symptoms. However, the two illnesses are very different.
While both cause fatigue, coughing, and fever, COVID-19 can have a wide range of symptoms, including loss of smell and severe breathing problems.
Statistically, COVID-19 is more deadly than the flu. The flu causes an average of 38,000 deaths each year in the U.S. In comparison, there have been over 200,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in the US along so far.
Why is the flu shot so important this year?
There are a couple of (very) good reasons to get your flu shot this year, for both personal and public health reasons.
Let’s start with the personal. Because different viruses cause the flu and COVID-19, there’s a possibility of co-infection. Yes—that means you can have both at the same time.
Information on COVID‐19 and influenza co-infection is limited, and public health experts don’t know how dangerous it may be. But, chances are, it’s not great.
“Getting a flu shot lowers the chances you’ll get influenza—and if you do, it will most likely be a milder infection,” says ZOOM+Care CMO, Dr. Vanderlip. “We have no idea what co-infection with flu and COVID would be like, but a flu vaccine reduces your chances of finding out. Plus, getting vaccinated helps limit the spread of coronavirus by preventing extra trips to the doctor.”
Another reason to get the jab? If we can prevent people from catching the flu, we can ease the burden on our healthcare system. That way, our hospitals are free and clear to help COVID-19 patients.
I’ve heard it’s unsafe to get the flu shot this year. Is that true?
The flu isn’t probably isn’t your biggest worry right now, and that’s understandable. We know it’s tempting to avoid the doctor’s office for fear of COVID-19, but getting your flu shot is still important.
From extra cleaning precautions to strict social distancing measures, doctors are taking extra precautions to keep people safe while getting their flu shot.
“When you schedule a flu shot at Zoom, you’re in and out in five minutes, and you have minimal contact with others during your visit,” says Dr. Mark Zeiter, ZOOM+Care’s Medical Director of Acute Care Services. “We also ask that patients schedule ahead, which means the waiting room is empty or doesn’t even exist.”
We also ask that patients wear masks during their visit, and follow all social distancing guidelines.
One important thing to note: Don’t get the flu shot if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are currently experiencing symptoms. In that case, wait until you’re ten days symptom-free or have a negative COVID-19 test.
Can the flu shot protect me from COVID-19?
The flu and COVID-19 are different illnesses, so the flu shot won’t protect you against the coronavirus. That said, getting vaccinated has many benefits.
“For starters, the flu shot can help prevent unnecessary trips to the doctor,” says Dr. Vanderlip.
That’s important since more trips to the doctor mean more risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
“The vaccine can also reduce the severity of the flu if you do happen to become infected. Our flu shot protects against four strains of the flu virus.” Vanderlip adds.
According to Dr. Mark Zeiter, flu vaccine can have long-term health benefits, too.
“There is evidence that flu vaccination offers a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease. The more years you get the flu shot, the less likely you are to get Alzheimer’s, says Zeitzer. “There is also evidence that the more years you get the flu vaccination, the less likely you are to get the flu overall—so there is a cumulative effect.”
Will the flu shot increase my risk of getting COVID-19?
No. The two diseases are different, so being immunized for one does not make you more vulnerable to the other. There’s no evidence connecting the flu shot, or other vaccines, with an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
Will wearing a mask and practicing social distancing help stop the spread of the flu?
The pandemic has underscored the importance of handwashing, sanitizing, masking, and social distancing—measures which also curb the spread of flu. According to CDC director Robert Redfield, if the public continues to follow health experts’ advice, we could have the “best flu season” to date.
Just take a look at the Southern Hemisphere. Australia is a good predictor of our flu season, and this year, there were just over 21,000 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases. Last year in the same period, there were over 247,000. Experts credit extra precautions, such as masking, social distancing, sanitizing, and good vaccination rate for the mild flu season in the Southern Hemisphere.
In other words, keep wearing your mask, washing your hands, and get your flu shot!
Can I get the vaccine at any time?
You can, but we don’t recommend waiting.
“Now is the time to get the flu shot, because we don’t know when the flu wave will be coming,” says Dr. Vanderlip.
Seasonal flu outbreaks can start in October, so it’s best to get your flu shot ASAP.