This fall, two viruses will be circulating at this same time: seasonal influenza and COVID-19. Some are calling it the 'twindemic'. The situation makes it more important than ever for people to get the flu shot this year.
"It's important to get the flu shot every year," says William Doherty, MD, FACHE, Chief Medical Officer at Augusta Health, "but this year, I think it's even more important. There will be two different viruses spreading at the same time. One, which is seasonal flu, we know a lot about. The other, COVID-19, is still new and unpredictable in many ways. We're learning more about it every day. I can tell you, though, that being co-infected with both at the same time would be miserable if not overwhelming for a patient."
Dr. Doherty explains that a flu shot can't prevent COVID-19 because they are separate viruses. It is effective at preventing the flu, though, or resulting in a milder case if you do develop the flu.
"Flu vaccine production has been increased this year, and it was updated, as it is every year, to include the flu types that are predicted to impact the United States this fall. The flu mutates constantly, so you do need a flu shot every year for the best protection. Generally, anyone over the age of six months should get the vaccine, but it's especially important for older adults and those with medical conditions like cancer or diabetes. It's also very important this year for essential workers to be sure they are vaccinated. For those allergic to eggs, there is an egg-free vaccine available," adds Dr. Doherty.
It is not too early to get the flu shot this year, and it's already available in physician offices and around the community. "I'd say the earlier in the season you get the shot, the better," says Dr. Doherty, "but as long as flu is in the community, it's not too late to get the shot."
Dr. Doherty would like to dispel a rumor that surfaces every year: The flu shot does not give you the flu. It does, however, take two to four weeks for the body to develop full immunity after the vaccine.
"As the flu season starts, we are still very much in the battle with COVID-19," adds Dr. Doherty, "so that's another very important reason to get a flu shot this year. Our resources, especially those used to treat respiratory illnesses, are being used for patients with COVID-19. When you reduce your chances of catching flu and needing medical attention for it, you are helping us to conserve those resources for our COVID patients. By staying well, you also reduce your chances of being exposed to COVID if you have to seek medical attention for flu."
Dr. Doherty does have hope that some of the precautions people have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will also help prevent the spread of flu. The familiar precautions include avoiding large groups, keeping a six foot distance from others in public, washing hands frequently and wearing a mask when the six foot distance can't be maintained—especially indoors.
"These precautions do help prevent the spread of illness," says Dr. Doherty. "There are many, many people in our community who are very thoughtful and using most, if not all of these precautions. There are also those who are not as careful about these practices. Honestly, with the prospect of flu and COVID impacting our community at the same time, it's time to use everything available to prevent ourselves and others: Wash your hands. Keep socially distant. Wear a mask when you can't stay distant. And get your flu shot this year."