By: Justin Ceravolo, pharmacist for Cypress Pharmacy
With the resurgence of new COVID-19 variants, the message to get vaccinated for the flu is loud and clear. The sooner, the better.
The typical flu season peaks from December to February, with 40 to 50 million flu illnesses, 800,000 hospitalizations and between 30,000 to 60,000 deaths annually.
However, last flu season could hardly be considered typical amid the year of COVID outbreaks and heightened safety measures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu activity hit historical lows for the 2020-21 season. And while that may sound like a big win, it also has health officials concerned for what’s to come.
Reduced population immunity due to the lack of flu activity could mean more severe outbreaks and an earlier than normal start for the 2021-22 season, according to the CDC.
As new COVID cases continue to climb, stakes are higher for flu patients due to limited hospital capacity, and the looming threat of coinfection.
That’s why it’s vital to schedule your flu shot appointment early before viruses begin to spread. It takes approximately 14 days after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide the adequate amount of protection.
Flu Amid COVID
One of the major challenges of having influenza circulating among the coronavirus is their overlapping symptoms, which include fever, chills and body aches, along with upper respiratory symptoms, pneumonia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
While there are a few symptoms they don’t have in common – like losing your sense of taste and smell – people should get tested for both flu and COVID if symptoms arise.
Scientists are still studying the severe and deadly impacts of coinfection among patients with both flu and COVID-19, assured that vaccinations are the best option for developing immunity against any dangerous disease.
According to the CDC, flu vaccination prevents tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year. During the 2019-2020 season, studies show the flu shot prevented an estimated 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations.
Last flu season, out of an abundance of caution, receiving the influenza and coronavirus vaccines at the same time were not recommended. But with further research, this guidance has changed.
In fact, the CDC revealed it is safe and effective to get both shots on the same day, which is co-administered to different arms to reduce pain and swelling.
The CDC recommends annual flu shots for all people ages 6 months and older, with rare exceptions, and is fully covered by most health insurance plans without the need for copayment. And despite common misconceptions, the vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Some may experience soreness at the injection site or a headache, stuffy nose and sore throat that generally only last for a day, however, most people have no symptoms after getting the shot.
While the flu shot was once not recommended for those who were allergic to eggs, the CDC now advises that even people with egg allergies should receive an annual flu shot. To avoid any confusion, it’s important to consult a health care professional, pharmacist or credible source with any questions on the flu vaccine.
So, how will this year’s flu season pan out? The answer depends on us.
Along with the most common practices to prevent the spread of viruses – washing your hands and covering a cough or sneeze – take other important precautions to reduce your risk.
- Get vaccinated
- Practice social distancing
- Wear a face mask in public, indoor settings
As flu season begins to move in, now is the time to roll up our sleeves for better health.