As cooler weather approaches, most of us will start spending even more time indoors, and experts tell us this could cause an uptick in the number of coronavirus cases. In related news, flu season is on its way. Just another kick in the teeth from 2020, a year many of us would like to leave behind.
The good news is there are steps we can all take to reduce our risk of both COVID-19 and the influenza virus, and the precautions for one also reduce our risk of the other: wearing masks, remaining socially distant, washing our hands regularly, and limiting contact with people as much as possible. Although we must wait for a COVID-19 vaccine to become available, we can get our flu shot right now.
You may be thinking, if we’re all wearing masks and staying socially distant, why do we need a vaccine? There are several reasons. First, the flu is far more prevalent than the coronavirus and therefore, it is likely to spread to more people. Although you may wear masks at work and in public, you probably don’t wear them at home where people pass viruses back and forth all the time. And if you have children, your chances of getting the flu just went up.
Some people don’t get the flu shot because the vaccine is only 40-50 percent effective. But even if the vaccine protects only half the people who receive it, that means a very large number of people will not be spreading it to others. Also, people who get the vaccine typically have milder flu symptoms and are less likely to require hospitalization or to die from a complication of the illness. During the 2019-2020 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “estimates that influenza was associated with 38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths.”
Really, the only people who should not get the flu shot are babies younger than six months old and adults with allergic reactions. Just to be clear, many people experience a minor immune response to the vaccine—this is not an allergic reaction. If you feel tired and a little sick after getting the flu shot, this is actually not a bad thing according to Mendocino Coast Clinics Medical Director Dr. Lawrence Goldyn. These are the signs that your immune system is revving up. Just to put your mind at ease, according to the CDC, in recent years only 33 individuals out of 25 million vaccines given had a serious allergic reaction. So, it is extremely rare.
If you are pregnant or immuno-compromised, it is important to mention this to the person providing the flu shot. The nasal spray typically given to children is not safe for people who are immuno-compromised because the vaccine contains a little bit of live virus.
Overall, getting the flu shot is likely to prevent you from getting the flu or at least reduce your symptoms, and that will not only make you feel better but also slow the spread of the flu. Also, if you get the flu shot and later experience flu-like symptoms, your medical provider may be better able to diagnose you with coronavirus rather than the flu, saving valuable time.
Much is still unknown about the coronavirus, but we do know that people who get the flu are often more susceptible to secondary infections. It is possible that getting COVID-19 could increase our chances of contracting the flu or vice versa. It’s best to do what we can to prevent infection, and that means getting a flu shot.
The flu vaccine is proven safe and effective and every medical provider I know gets vaccinated every year (and insists their loved ones do the same). Here at Mendocino Coast Clinics, Dr. Goldyn insists that every member of the staff get the flu shot unless the employee has a medical history that makes it dangerous—a very rare occurrence.
Please, for your own health and the health of our whole community, go get a flu shot!