As the pandemic rages on, doctors are now concerned about the overlap of COVID-19 and flu season.
Though the focus recently has been on COVID-19 vaccines, it is important to remember the importance of the flu shot in saving lives during the pandemic and every year.
Shalika Katugaha, MD, system director of infectious diseases at Baptist Health, says the flu shot not only protects the person who receives it, but the community at large.
The flu ends with u!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu shot for everyone 6 months of age or older, especially children, who are at higher risk for severe illness and complications. Additionally, those between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time, or have only ever had one dose, should get two shots, according to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Ideally, people should get the flu vaccine by the end of October.
And, Dr. Katugaha added, kids under 12 can currently get a flu shot, unlike the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It is especially important to protect younger children from the viruses and illnesses that we can,” said Dr. Katugaha. “The flu has caused thousands of hospitalizations and deaths in previous years. The shot helps prevent you from becoming seriously ill.”
Little pain for a lot of gain
Dr. Katugaha believes that a lot of the so-called vaccine fatigue stems from conversations surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations and misinformation that seems to be rampant. As a result, people are hesitant to get vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the flu.
According to Dr. Katugaha, the flu vaccine does not give you the virus, but exposes your body to an inactivated part so your body can gear up.
“It’s like an army of antibodies inside you, and they are getting ready for the fight ahead,” explained Dr. Katugaha. “When your body aches and you experience chills, it’s your immune system doing drills like it has encountered the enemy, so that when it does come into contact with the virus, it is ready.”
Battle of the “twindemic”
While the flu shot does not entirely prevent a person from getting COVID-19, it still is a protective measure. When people get sick, they may get other illnesses, like COVID-19.
“Viruses typically suppress your immune system and make you more susceptible to other infections,” said Dr. Katugaha. “So, in an indirect way, not having the flu will protect you from getting COVID-19, and vice versa.”
People who have been fully or partially vaccinated against COVID-19 can get a flu shot at any time.
While there was a record low number of flu cases last year due to masking, social distancing and stay-at home orders, this year may be different with kids back in the classroom.
“We are already seeing a spike in cases of RSV, a serious respiratory virus in children, which suggests the flu can surge in children as well,” said Dr. Katugaha.
Dr. Katugaha emphasized that until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for all kids, the best thing parents can do to protect their children is to keep them healthy. When children are at maximum health, their bodies will not be run-down and in a state that is more susceptible to contract the flu or COVID-19.
Reference: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention