With COVID-19 Lurking, the Flu Vaccine is More Important Than Ever this Flu Season
Though the hot September temps might fool you into thinking we’re a long way off from having to think about flu shots, that’s not the case. Shipments of the 2020-2021 influenza vaccine have already begun, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. And getting your flu shot soon is more important than ever.
What’s unclear is exactly how people who contact both the flu and the coronavirus at the same time will be affected. But to best avoid that fate, the CDC is recommending everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine in September or October and continue COVID-prevention practices (hand washing, masking up, social distancing) throughout the fall and winter.
If September sounds too early to get vaccinated, it’s not. It normally takes about two weeks after a flu shot to build up antibodies, meaning those who get one now won’t have the protection fully kick in until October. Taking care of this early is especially important for adults 65 and older who typically do not build the same level of immunity or antibodies as a younger person. That’s also why high-dose flu vaccines are recommended for older adults. Clinical trials have indicated people in this age group had a stronger immune response after receiving the high-dose as compared to the standard dose and saw greater protection against flu-related hospitalizations.
But officials are worried that people will not get their flu shot this fall because they want to avoid a trip to their doctor’s office—and there’s some data backing up this concern. Early numbers on pediatric vaccinations show a notable decline in childhood immunizations being administered during this pandemic. Experts say that’s not the way to go: They stress that it is safe to get a vaccine from doctor’s office because most healthcare locations are enforcing stringent safety precautions, from temperature checks and sanitizing stations to clipboards that are disinfected between uses. Beyond stepped-up sanitation efforts, some healthcare organizations are also completely separating healthy patients from those with COVID-like symptoms, for example, making symptomatic patients use separate entrances and be seen in dedicated areas.
For those without a primary care physician, flu shots are available at local pharmacies, rapid clinics, and community pop-up sites. You can go online to www.vaccinefinder.org to find a local vaccination site near you.
Across the globe, we’ve seen travel restrictions, social distancing, and mask-wearing work to slow the spread of coronavirus. We can hope that continuing these safety practices will also work to slow the flu. However, experts still advise that the single most valuable thing you can do in defense of a looming flu season is schedule your flu shot today.