The Importance of the Flu Vaccine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

For much of 2020, the novel coronavirus has dominated news cycles around the world. While we must remain vigilant in our fight against this disease by taking necessary safety precautions, we cannot let our fear of COVID-19 deter us from protecting ourselves during the upcoming flu season.

While COVID and the flu share many similar symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough/congestion, and muscle and body aches, studies show that up to 20 percent of people who have COVID-19 also have influenza A and B and other respiratory viruses. You have an opportunity, however, to protect yourself against the flu through your annual flu shot. The flu vaccine also decreases your likelihood of contracting these viruses at the same time.

The flu remains one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC estimates that more than 35 million people were sick with the flu during the 2018-2019 season, and more than 34,000 people died from the virus. These numbers illustrate the importance of everyone getting the flu vaccine, especially high-risk populations such as infants, elderly adults and those with underlying medical conditions or those with chronic illnesses.

While some may worry that getting the flu vaccine will actually give them the flu, that is a myth that circulates annually. You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. If a person does develop flu-like symptoms after getting a shot, it is likely their immune system reacting to the vaccine and causing mild symptoms, or something they caught before the immunity takes effect.

Getting a flu vaccine carries a much lower risk of harm than catching the actual virus. Annual vaccinations are recommended for anyone older than 6 months, including pregnant women, and should be administered any time between early fall (end of September) and the end of October, as it takes about two weeks for the immunity to form in your body, according to the CDC. But it is never too late to get the flu shot. Children who need two doses of the vaccine should start the process earlier because the doses need to be given four weeks apart.

With everything our communities are experiencing with COVID-19, it’s especially important to get a flu vaccine this year. By vaccinating against the flu, you are not only minimizing your risk of getting both coronavirus and the flu at the same time, but you are also protecting our more vulnerable populations and helping ensure that our health care systems have the ability and necessary resources to treat those with the two viruses.

Janey Phipps, APRN, FNP

Janey Phipps, APRN, FNP is with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Primary Care in London.