COVID-19 has occupied our thoughts about health for quite a while now. And for good reason. But what about the flu? In seasons past, getting a flu shot was a rite of the fall season and we braced for the virus to circulate our schools and offices. But in the era of COVID-19, is the flu still a concern and do you need a flu shot?
The short answer is yes.
“This is in fact one of the most important years to guard against influenza,” explains Stephen Cobb, MD, Denver Metro Group Vice President and Physician Executive at Centura Health. “Our hospitals are busy and medical staff stretched. It’s so important to avoid hospitalization if possible. That means protecting against the flu.”
Recognizing the risks
While the flu was at record low levels last year largely due to the effectiveness of masking, working from home and avoiding large gatherings, it’s expected come back strong as we return to more normal activities. And despite continued focus on the pandemic, it’s important to not discount the dangers of the flu. Not only can the flu make us feel miserable, it can also be deadly.
“Especially for those at higher risk, influenza can lead to pneumonia and other serious complications,” says Dr. Cobb. “In the past, a really bad flu season has caused as many as 80,000 deaths and many more hospitalizations in this country alone.”
The single best way to prevent influenza is to get a flu shot. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone age 6 months and older get a yearly flu shot. If influenza vaccination fell off your radar this year, it’s not too late.
Typically, the height of flu season runs from November to March in the Western states although trends show it may be a little later this year. The best time to get the shot is before the virus is rapidly spreading in your community. That’s because it takes about two weeks after vaccination to develop antibodies against the flu.
“Even if you have a healthy immune system, it’s important to get a flu shot. In many cases, you are protecting others even more than yourself,” advises Dr. Cobb. “As we go into the holiday season, this is especially important for our more vulnerable family members. Remember, the sooner you get it, the sooner you will be protected.”
Clearing up confusion
There’s a lot of talk about vaccinations and booster shots in general. And it’s easy for misinformation to spread. To be clear, influenza and COVID-19 are two different diseases. That means if you’ve gotten a COVID-19 shot, you still need to be immunized against the flu. It’s even safe to get them at the same time. And studies show that the flu shot will not interfere with the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine or booster.
“The flu shot is designed to target the influenza strains expected to create illness each year. So far, reports indicate that the current flu shot is a close match to the strains that are circulating. And it’s available now,” says Dr. Cobb. “Protect yourself and others by getting your flu shot today.”
Flu vaccines are available at many Centura Health locations, including pharmacies and physician offices. In many of these, an appointment is not necessary but usually results in a more efficient experience. Contact a primary care location near you.