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Flu Shots Are Even More Important During A Pandemic

By Nena Kotsalidis, Monica Oxenreiter, and Eliza Skoler

Be sure to get a flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect yourself and your community against severe illness and hospitalization. Plus, learn the differences between the coronavirus and the flu

Many lives have been turned upside by the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting how we go to school, how we work, how we get groceries, and how we interact with friends and neighbors. As we enter the fall and COVID-19 is still a major threat to community health, it is more important than ever to get a flu shot this flu season.

Symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are similar: both can cause body fatigue, aches, and fever. That said, there are a few key differences:

  • COVID-19 is often accompanied by a loss of taste or smell.

  • Time to develop symptoms: for the flu, symptoms generally appear one to four days after infection; people with COVID-19 often do not get symptoms until five days after infection, though it can be as long as two weeks before symptoms appear.

  • People infected with COVID-19 are contagious for a longer period of time compared to those with the flu, and even when you do not have symptoms, you can spread COVID-19 to others.

  • COVID-19 is a superspreading virus, meaning that it is more easily spread among people than the flu.

Learn more about how to differentiate between COVID-19 and the flu from the CDC.

Why is a flu shot so important this year?

The CDC has predicted that this fall and winter both the flu and COVID-19 viruses will be spreading. Unfortunately, it is possible to get both viruses at once. Although there are promising options on the horizon, there is no vaccine yet to protect people against COVID-19. However, getting a flu shot can help prevent the spread of the flu, decreasing your chances of having both viruses at once.

The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine each year. This is not just for your own safety, but it also helps to reduce spread and protect the health of our entire community. While the flu vaccine is important for preventing the most common flu viruses each year, the vaccine can also reduce the severity of the illness if you are infected with a different version of the flu. This is helpful for reducing hospitalizations, especially during a time when many hospitals are more full than usual.

State stay-at-home orders have led to a decrease in immunization services. It is still necessary for people to receive their routine vaccinations during the pandemic; the CDC has warned that secondary outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases could arise due to missed vaccinations. Because healthcare systems around the world are overwhelmed by COVID-19, people should do everything possible to limit the spread of preventable illnesses.

Getting a flu shot during the pandemic

To limit the chance of exposure to COVID-19, healthcare professionals are required to screen patients for symptoms of the coronavirus, minimize the number of people in the office at one time, and implement face-covering policies. You can learn more about mask-wearing here. There are also additional guidelines for vaccine administration in places besides a healthcare office (like pharmacies, temporary clinics, and large influenza clinics).

Most health insurance plans are required to pay for recommended vaccines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed a website to help people find their closest location for vaccination. At this difficult time for our community, one of the few ways that we can make a difference – in addition to wearing a mask and socially distancing – is to get a flu shot and prevent large flu outbreaks amid the pandemic.

Click here to read more diaTribe articles on COVID-19.

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