With the coronavirus dominating headlines, it may be easy to forget the flu season is fast approaching.
Should you or should you not get a flu shot this year as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on?
Should you get the shot earlier than normal?
Local doctors and pharmacists are getting these questions and more this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We haven’t seen any cases of flu yet,” said Pharmacist Linda Turner of Brindley’s Family Pharmacy.
“There’s no reason to get the flu shot yet. We don’t recommend, and the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t recommend getting the vaccine until October.”
Turner said the optimum time to get vaccinated is during October, which allows the most coverage for flu season.
“The vaccine’s effectiveness wanes after about six months,” she said. “Last year we had a longer season with three different peaks. To ensure you are getting the most coverage during the season it is best to wait to get the shot.”
Millie Martin, practice manager for Out of the Box Healthcare, said the current use of masks may help slow the spread of flu in addition to COVID-19.
“The issue with Covid is you don’t want to escalate things when the flu hits,” she said. “There is a flu vaccine available year round, but to get the most up to date version, it is best to wait until October.”
Dale Johnson, owner of Boaz Discount Pharmacy, said last year some chain drug stores gave out shots in July, which is way too early, in his opinion.
“That upset us because firstly, they were getting our patients and our customers,” Johnson said. “Secondly, we didn’t think it was the proper time to get the shot.
“We recommend everyone get the vaccine in late September or October.”
Who should have a flu shot?
Annual flu shots are recommended for all persons over the age of 6; pregnant woman; and those with compromised immune systems.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses is important to protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe illness, the healthcare system, and other critical infrastructure, according to the CDC. Thus, healthcare providers should use every opportunity during the influenza vaccination season to administer influenza vaccines to all eligible persons, including:
• Essential workers: Healthcare personnel, including nursing home, long-term care facility, and pharmacy staff.
• Persons at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19: Including adults age 65 years and older, residents in a nursing home or long-term care facility, persons of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions.
• Persons at high risk for influenza complications: Including infants and young children, children with neurologic conditions, pregnant women, adults age 65 years and older, and other persons with certain underlying medical conditions.
“The flu will impact the youngest and the oldest the most,” Turner said. “We can infect each other. Most people are more aware of that this year. You can spread to who you are caring for, so if you are caring for an older person or a child, you really need to protect yourself by getting vaccinated.”
Where to get vaccinated?
You can safely get a flu vaccine at multiple locations including your doctor’s office, health departments, and pharmacies. You can use VaccineFinder.orgexternal icon to find where flu vaccines are available near you. When going to get a flu vaccine, be sure to practice everyday preventive actions.
Johnson said many pharmacies, including his, will offer walk-in vaccination services. The process involves filling out a form or two, and giving a brief medical history to prevent allergic reactions.
“It all takes about 10 to 15 minutes,” Johnson said. “And many insurance companies now pay for the flu shot. There’s really no reason not to get the vaccine.”
Tips to prevent the spread of the flu
The CDC offers the following tips to prevent the spread of the flu.
1. Avoid close contact.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
2. Stay home when you are sick.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
3. Cover your mouth and nose.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and COVID-19, are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.
4. Clean your hands.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.