However, this year will be unlike any before because the 2020-21 flu season will coincide with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve heard it said over and over, but this year truly is unprecedented,” says Dr. Stephen Munday, medical director of Epidemiology and Provider Safety with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “The combination of serious COVID-19 and influenza cases could be catastrophic. The flu vaccine is an excellent tool to avoid this if everyone who is able receives the vaccine.”
While it is always important to get vaccinated against the flu to promote immunity to the virus, there are specific reasons why it is imperative that everyone age 6 months and older — with rare exceptions — receives a flu vaccine this year.
Here are the top five reasons the flu vaccine is more important than ever:
- The flu vaccine is effective.
Pandemic or not, every eligible person should receive the flu vaccine each year. Although the strains causing this season’s flu may not exactly match those in the vaccine, the protection the vaccine provides is effective. If you are exposed to a strain in the vaccine you receive, the infection will be less severe or even negligible.
- The flu and COVID-19 share similar symptoms.
Fever, dry cough, body aches, chills and fatigue are all common symptoms of both the flu and COVID-19, and there is a risk of inaccurate diagnosis. If a flu infection is mistaken for COVID-19, people may find themselves facing unnecessary, lengthy quarantine or not receiving appropriate flu treatment, such as antiviral medication.
- The flu and COVID-19 are both highly contagious illnesses that affect the respiratory system.
Being infected by both viruses is possible. This means that the risk of having more severe symptoms of both flu and COVID-19 and serious complications — such as acute respiratory distress syndrome — caused by co-infection could be higher.
- The combination of both illnesses in a community can overwhelm the health care system.
Testing resources for COVID-19 have been insufficient at times, and many of the same materials, equipment and laboratories are used to test for the flu, which could lead to increased testing challenges. What’s more, some hospitals, especially those in remote areas, have limited capacity and medical equipment, including ventilators. If they are faced with surges in both severe flu and COVID-19 cases, they may become overwhelmed.
- Increased cases of flu and COVID-19 could lead to further shutdowns.
As mentioned above, communities across the country have experienced COVID-19 testing delays as well as inaccurate results. If cases of flu are mistaken for COVID-19, the data collected to determine whether schools and businesses can remain open may be affected, leading to further shutdowns.
“The risk of getting sick with flu if you are not vaccinated is far greater than the risk of exposure to COVID-19 when in a doctor’s office or clinic. Many places, including Sharp Rees-Stealy, are offering vaccines in other ways, too, such as drive-up vaccination stations where you don’t have to leave your vehicle, making getting your vaccine very safe.”
Flu vaccinations begin in September. Learn more about how to access flu shots in San Diego.