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Flu shots critical as pandemic continues into flu season

Oct 2, 2020

Sweater weather won’t arrive anytime soon in the Valley, but health experts say that receiving this year’s influenza vaccination should be at the top of everyone’s fall to-do list, especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, receiving a flu shot in October offers the greatest protection against the flu, and annual vaccination is recommended for all individuals six months or older who do not have specific medical conditions that would be exacerbated by the vaccine.

Dr. William Ellert, chief medical officer at Abrazo Health, said that getting vaccinated against the flu is a simple and proven way to protect against one of the world’s most common illnesses.

“When you get a flu shot, you reduce your risk of contracting influenza by 50 to 80 percent,” he said. “Additionally, if you've gotten the flu shot and catch the flu anyway, your illness will be milder. The flu shot gives you a great deal of protection and helps reduce the risk of the particularly dangerous combination of flu plus COVID co-infection, which we have already seen in some patients.” 

According to a CDC study, receiving an annual flu vaccine is still the best way to best protect against the flu. In a study analyzing the severe flu season of 2017-2018, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 6.2 million influenza illnesses, 3.2 million influenza-associated medical visits, 91,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 5,700 influenza-associated deaths.

It has also been shown that being vaccinated can even reduce the risk for major cardiac events in those patients at highest risk for heart problems.

In addition to all of the normal risks associated with complications of flu infection, COVID-19 poses an additional threat during this year’s flu season, said Dr. Ellert.

“While we have seen an improvement in hospitalizations, we are definitely not out of the woods and at risk for resurgence,” he said. Dr. Ellert said that not only can local residents protect themselves and their loved ones by receiving the flu shot, they can also ensure that the Valley’s healthcare system does not become overwhelmed during flu season as healthcare providers continue to battle COVID-19.

According to the CDC, the flu has led to between 140,000 and 810,000 hospitalizations annually since 2010. Coupling that seasonal increase in hospitalizations with the impacts of COVID-19 could have consequences on the region’s healthcare system, he said.

“If large numbers of people are infected with flu, COVID or both, we could have another surge in respiratory infections and hospitalizations that is even larger than what we had over the summer,” said Dr. Ellert.

While receiving the annual flu shot is a proven means to protect against the flu, there are additional methods to protect against the virus, according to the CDC. Because COVID-19 and the flu can spread similarly, there are ways to guard against the spread of both viruses, including:

  • Avoiding close contact with others, especially those who are sick
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Stay at home when you are sick

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