The time of shorter days, falling snow, and colder weather has officially arrived. Whether you're preparing for the fall and winter season by bingeing holiday movies, stocking up on puzzles, or putting up some much-needed holiday decorations, there's one other way to make sure you're ready — and that's by getting your flu shot.
Throughout 2020, the world has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has surpassed 54 million cases and 1 million deaths worldwide. Unfortunately, this battle is not over. As the country enters colder seasons, not only are COVID-19 cases predicted to surge once again, but the flu season is also upon us.
They're calling it a "twindemic" — a combination of COVID-19 and the flu. While the nation awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, the best way to protect yourself from the novel coronavirus continues to be masks, social distancing, and heightened handwashing.
As for the flu virus, there's also the flu shot.
Flu season usually begins in the fall and peaks between December and February. Though the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, it can keep you out of the doctor's office and safe at home, as well as preserve critical healthcare resources for patients with other illnesses — including COVID-19.
Getting the flu shot is important every year, but this year it's a must. Here's why.
COVID-19 and the Flu: Different Viruses — But Similar Symptoms
While COVID-19 and the flu are both contagious respiratory illnesses (meaning they affect your breathing ), they're caused by two separate viruses. COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus, and the flu is caused by influenza viruses.
However, they share plenty of symptoms, which can make it difficult to tell whether you're infected with COVID-19 or the flu. Overlapping symptoms include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Vomiting or diarrhea
The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 proved that it can put a significant strain on the American health system. This November, hospitalization records were broken yet again.
Because COVID-19 is highly contagious, you may need to stay quarantined or get tested for COVID-19 if you experience symptoms of either illness. However, that means you might end up quarantining or utilizing healthcare resources unnecessarily if it ends up being the flu.
Plus, during seasons when the flu vaccine viruses are similar to the ones circulating, the flu shot can reduce your risk of requiring an appointment for the flu with a healthcare provider by up to 60%. This means you can stay safe at home and not take time away from an already-swamped healthcare worker.
The more you can do to prevent putting unneeded pressure on hospitals and healthcare facilities right now, the better. By getting the flu shot, not only can you lessen your chances of feeling sick, but you can also ensure critical time and resources are dedicated to fighting COVID-19.
The Flu Vaccine is Your Best Protection Against the Flu
Handwashing, avoiding contact with those who are sick, and frequently disinfecting surfaces are all great ways to protect yourself from the flu. However, the best way to protect yourself remains the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization in older adults by an average of 40%. As for children, the vaccine can reduce their risk of flu-related admission to a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) by about 74%.
Plus, if you have a chronic health condition, the flu vaccine can keep you safe by reducing the risk of:
- Cardiac events (like a heart attack) if you have heart disease
- Worsening flu-related chronic lung disease if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Hospitalization if you have diabetes or chronic lung disease
- Flu-associated acute respiratory infection if you are pregnant
Getting vaccinated is for more than just your own safety — it also protects others. The more people who get the flu shot, the less likely it is that the flu will spread throughout the community.
The flu shot may take 10 minutes out of your day, but it could add years to someone else's life.
Is Getting the Flu Vaccine Safe — Especially During a Pandemic?
For half a century, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received their seasonal flu vaccine. There is extensive research to support the safety of the vaccination and health experts work tirelessly to ensure the vaccine is effective, and of high quality each year.
To start, you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. The vaccine either contains an inactivated virus (meaning the virus is no longer able to infect you) or a tiny particle that is meant to look like a flu virus to your immune system.
However, you may experience minor side effects after getting the flu shot, such as:
- Soreness, redness, or swelling in the area where you received the injection
- Muscle aches
These side effects may look familiar — they are also symptoms of the flu itself. But these side effects are generally mild, and they go away on their own within a couple of days. They're also rare — for example, less than 2% of people who get the flu vaccine experience fever. Plus, the symptoms aren't contagious like the flu.
Read more about flu shot facts and myths.
Getting the Flu Shot During a Pandemic
You may have some concern about getting your flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as health experts and government officials are urging you to stay at home whenever possible. However, healthcare facilities across the country, including right here in Chester County, are taking extra precautions to keep patients safe, including:
- Screening anyone who enters the facility for symptoms
- Requiring all staff, patients, and visitors to wear a face-covering at all times
- Modifying waiting areas to promote physical distancing
- Enhancing cleaning protocols, especially for high touch surfaces like doorknobs, public washrooms, and elevator buttons
Learn more about how Chester County Hospital is keeping patients safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can also ensure your own safety while getting a flu vaccine by:
- Wearing a mask
- Washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, especially immediately after returning home
- Maintaining distance from others in the healthcare facility or pharmacy, with the exception of medical staff
- Waiting to get the vaccine if you don't feel well
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone over 6 months old get the flu vaccine each year, there are a few exceptions, including if you have a severe, life-threatening allergy to the vaccine or any of its ingredients. Talk to your healthcare provider before getting the flu shot if you have had a severe allergy to eggs or any of the vaccine's ingredients or have had Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare disorder where your body's immune system damages nerve cells).
At the beginning of 2020, the nation came together to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect those who need it most. Now, as two viruses simultaneously threaten the health and safety of Americans once again, it's crucial to do all you can to prevent the spread of the flu and COVID-19.
Wash your hands frequently, mask up, keep your distance from others, and go get your flu shot.
Do you have questions about the importance of the flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic? Call 610-431-5000 to talk to a healthcare provider at Chester County Hospital.
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