With the threat of COVID-19 still looming in many communities across the U.S. and uncertainty over its future path, now more than ever, it’s critical for people to get a flu shot.
While much of the nation saw a mild flu season last year, it’s unknown what will happen this coming winter. Dr. Aamina Akhtar, a chief medical officer for Mercy and an infectious disease specialist, strongly advises people take no chances.
"There are several things we can do to protect ourselves from the flu, but flu shots are the first line of defense,” Dr. Akhtar said. “They're not perfect, but they do offer proven protection and can lessen the effects of the flu virus if you do catch it.”
Dr. Akhtar added flu shots are especially important for vulnerable people, such as anyone with a chronic health condition, the elderly and children. Children often aren't as diligent at washing their hands, covering their coughs and other steps to prevent spreading the flu virus, which makes giving them their flu shot extra beneficial.
“In addition, it’s important for people to understand that a COVID vaccine will not protect against the flu, and vice versa,” said Dr. Paul Bean, a Mercy chief of medical affairs and hospitalist. Each vaccine works differently, and he encourages those who have not received their COVID vaccinations to do so ahead of the impending flu season.
“Getting influenza and COVID at the same time will be catastrophic for some patients and would likely make any one disease much more severe,” Dr. Bean said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Food and Drug Administration, agree that it’s OK to receive flu and COVID vaccines (including a booster) at the same time, which may be easier and more convenient for many people. Likewise, it’s fine to space them out.
Flu and COVID symptoms are similar. Cough, muscle aches, fatigue, fever, sore throat and runny nose often are present in both. A loss of taste or smell is common with COVID. If someone is experiencing any of the above symptoms, they should contact their primary care physician.
The viruses are spread in similar ways, so continued masking, social distancing and frequent hand washing can help prevent the spread of both.
“Masking will help reduce flu transmission like it did last year,” Dr. Bean added.
“I’ve heard some patients say they’ve never gotten a flu shot before, so why get one now?” Dr. Akhtar said. “The simple answer: COVID. The Delta variant has been aggressive and that, in addition to flu, could really lay people low. There’s no reason to take the risk. We’ve seen too many people die this past year. Our bodies can only take so much. Our immune systems need as much help as they can get. It’s imperative to get a flu shot this year, along with your COVID vaccine, if you haven’t already gotten them.”