Getting a flu shot each fall is on most people’s to-do list; however, fall 2020 is like no other fall we’ve had before. With the additional strain of the pandemic, it has become even more vital that those eligible for the vaccine get it.
This year, health experts have warned that an influenza outbreak, along with the current COVID-19 pandemic, increases people’s potential to catch both simultaneously and could overwhelm our healthcare system and testing capabilities. According to UC San Francisco infectious disease expert, Charles Chiu, MD, Ph.D., even with “a mild flu season, the convergence with a COVID surge could very rapidly overwhelm our hospital system.”
It’s critical to do all we can to prevent the flu, and the number one way to do that is by getting the flu vaccine. There are several benefits to getting the flu vaccine. While it’s true that there are various strains of the influenza virus and not all strains are covered in each year’s vaccination, if you do happen to catch the flu, the symptoms are often much less severe if you’ve received the vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “It can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.”
When it comes to influenza, the infection fatality rate is less than 0.1 percent. That’s approximately ten times less than the fatality rate of COVID-19; however, we have a safe and effective vaccine for influenza, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t try to prevent an outbreak, particularly in a time when such an outbreak would cause catastrophic harm.
We know the elderly, and those with chronic illness are particularly susceptible to both influenza and COVID-19. However, one thing to keep in mind is that children are particularly hard hit by flu, which can spread rapidly in a school or daycare setting.
Who Can Get the Influenza Vaccine?
With few exceptions, everyone aged six months and older can and should be vaccinated; however, it is particularly vital for those considered to be at high risk of serious complications associated with influenza. There are different flu vaccinations approved for people in various age ranges.
Infrequent exceptions exist where one should not be vaccinated, including those with severe life-threatening allergies to the vaccine or its components. Those who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, who are feeling ill or have egg allergies should talk with their doctor to decide whether the vaccination is right for them.
The CDC recommends receiving the vaccine before a flu outbreak in your community. For most, this is by the end of October since it can take up to two weeks for your immune system to begin producing antibodies to fight off the virus.
While it’s always a good idea to get vaccinated against influenza each year, this year is particularly critical given the circumstances.