Flu season is a little more complicated in 2020.
The influenza virus, as it does annually, has mutated and made a return visit. Of course, this year we’re facing the flu during the COVID-19 outbreak. Is it unsafe to get a flu shot? Or more important than ever?
Consider this your guide to everything you need to know about getting flu shots during COVID-19.
Why the Flu Vaccine Is Always Important?
The bottom line is that a flu shot is good preventive medicine. Although it’s not 100% effective, it is highly protective against influenza, both in terms of reducing your chance of catching the flu and avoiding a more serious case.
Flu symptoms range from mild to severe, come on suddenly, and can include muscle and body aches, headaches, fever/chills, sore throat, cough, stuffy or runny nose, and fatigue. Flu becomes especially dangerous when serious complications such as pneumonia arise, which can result in death. Less severe complications include ear and sinus infections.
Even though some people may still get sick after being vaccinated, research shows that vaccinated adults are 59% less likely to have a very severe illness resulting in intensive care unit (ICU) admission than those who are not vaccinated.
Note: Those with asthma, liver, kidney, or heart disease, a weakened immune system (from HIV, AIDS, or leukemia), obesity, blood disorders, endocrine disorders, or neurologic conditions should know that severe complications can arise alongside influenza.
Why the Flu Vaccine Has Added Importance in 2020?
While a flu shot won’t prevent COVID-19, it’s important for your health—and the community—to get one during this pandemic. In ordinary times, the flu can range from nuisance to lethal. Right now, those risks become magnified.
Consider this: Flu vaccination reduces your chance of flu-related hospital admission by 37% and intensive care unit (ICU) admission by 82%. Staying away from the hospital helps protect you from COVID-19—and it also helps the healthcare system focus much-needed resources on COVID-19.
Many frontline workers are overwhelmed by the need to care for COVID-19 patients. Given the timing, it couldn’t be more vital to get a flu shot this autumn. It will reduce your chances of falling ill and being hospitalized, eliminating the financial, physical, and emotional toll on you and allowing doctors and nurses to focus their much-needed resources on battling the pandemic.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
Everyone ages six months and up can safely get a flu shot. Even healthy, young people who “never get the flu” should absolutely get inoculated. With COVID-19 added to the mix, it's more important this year than ever to act preventively to keep your immunity strong.
Because aging patients are generally at the highest risk for developing severe complications and may have other co-existing health conditions, there is a potent alternative — a high dose flu vaccine. According to the CDC, a high dose vaccine was approved in 2009 for people 65 and over, and it “contains four times the antigen, the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses.” Older people can take the regular, standard-dose flu shot instead of the high dose vaccine if they prefer.
When Should You Get Vaccinated?
The optimal time is between September and October. Keep in mind that it takes two weeks from the time you get a shot for your body to develop the antibodies that protect you against infection. The earlier (in the season) you can get vaccinated, the better.
It is possible to get the vaccine into January as the virus still makes the rounds, but your best strategy is to act before the flu season begins in earnest.
Flu strains vary from year to year, which is why you should get the latest update each flu season. The reason to get this year’s flu shot has nothing to do with COVID-19. It would be advisable in a normal year, too.
It's Safe to Get Flu Shots During COVID-19
We’re all being asked to pay attention in a new way, from how often we touch our faces to deeply considering the health of those around us. As long as social distancing is in effect and many people are working from home, vaccines are less likely to be offered at your workplace as in years past but the healthcare system is filling the gap.
Vaccines are considered an essential medical service, and as such, all safety precautions like mask-wearing, social distancing, using hand sanitizer after leaving a physical venue, frequent hand-washing, and good hygiene are in effect at locations where vaccines are administered.
You don’t want to find your immunity compromised during a pandemic. In addition to seeing your doctor for regular checkups and other routine preventive care, take a holistic approach to this flu season by choosing to eat fresh produce, minimizing processed foods, and incorporating movement into everyday life if you can.
In the bigger picture, our healthcare frontline workers are navigating a high level of personal risk to serve the public and must focus their resources on treating COVID-19 patients in addition to their usual caseload. The pandemic has made everyone keenly aware of their ability to infect or protect. To give yourself the best chance to stay out of the hospital, keep yourself as healthy as possible — and do get the shot.
Getting a flu shot is one of the smartest things you can do to keep yourself healthy. The COVID-19 situation only makes that good health even more valuable.