By: Justin Ceravolo, PharmD, assistant pharmacy manager for Cypress Pharmacy
This year has resulted in unprecedented change and uncertainty with a pandemic, domestic unrest and record-breaking natural disasters.
Study after study has shown the economic impact, stress and anxiety is having a significant impact on the mental health and stability of many people, who are feeling loss of control over so many aspects of their lives.
But there is one thing that everyone over the age of 6 months can do to help the health care system and even the economy this year: Get a flu shot.
It’s a familiar refrain every fall, but last year less than 50% of people who could get shots protecting for influenza got them. This year is different with the circulation of COVID-19.
Flu season peaks from December to February, with 40 to 50 million Americans catching it and some 800,000 requiring hospitalization. The flu kills 30,000 to 60,000 Americans every year.
One challenge this year is overlapping symptoms of influenza and COVID-19, including fever, chills and body aches, upper respiratory symptoms like runny nose and sore throat, cough and pneumonia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Because the flu vaccine does not use live viruses, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. Most people have no symptoms after getting the shot, although some can have soreness at the injection site or a headache, stuffy nose and sore throat that generally only last for a day.
Influenza antibodies from a shot take about two weeks to develop and can last four to six months. The immune system can support a memory of the vaccine for more than a year. While a shot won’t guarantee you won’t get the flu, as there are various strains not covered by the vaccine, it will lessen the severity and length of time you are ill.
If that’s not reason enough, here are more reasons why getting a flu shot this year is so important:
- Health care officials worry that a surge in COVID-19 cases that coincides with the influenza season will strain health systems and resources.
- The same group at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are also at risk of getting the flu.
- The only way to tell the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 apart is with testing. Tests for the flu use essentially the same approach as COVID-19 tests and that could cause shortages in reagents needed to run both tests.
- Influenza accounts for 111 million lost workdays and nearly $7 billion in lost productivity and sick days annually, which could hit hard our economy already made fragile by effects of the pandemic.
- Since so much is unknown about COVID-19, no one really knows the risk of getting the influenza and COVID-19 at the same time. A study in England, which is just finishing its flu season, has shown it is possible to get both respiratory illnesses simultaneously. The study found that people who contracted both the flu and COVID-19 were six times more likely to die than with neither COVID-19 or flu or from COVID-19 alone.
- Both the flu and COVID-19 target the lungs. Contracting influenza can make you more susceptible to contracting other pathogens.
- Widespread flu vaccination is credited with saving around 100,000 lives each year. Research shows that even during a non-pandemic year, a 1% increase in flu vaccinations can save around 800 lives and prevent the loss of about 14.5 million work-hours due to illness and absenteeism.
- Getting a flu vaccine also contributes to the wider public health effort. It’s not just for you, it’s also to prevent spreading the virus to others. The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer overall cases.
There is an increased demand for the vaccine this year, and some places are reporting shortages in vaccines. According to the CDC, manufacturers are projected to supply a record-breaking 198 million doses this year over last year’s 174.5 million.
The good news about this year’s flu season is that COVID-19 precautions could make it milder. Other parts of the world that have gone through peak flu season already have noted a milder season, but experts are not sure that will be the case in the U.S., where COVID-19 precautions like wearing masks and social distancing have already lessened with phased reopening and the opening of schools and universities.
Given all the evidence of the benefits of getting a flu shot this year, plan to get one. Often free with most insurances, flu shots are one less thing to worry about.