Getting an influenza vaccination is a critical measure you can take to protect your health each fall. With this year’s flu season overlapping the presence of COVID-19, scheduling flu shots for yourself and your family is more important than ever. Here’s what you need to know to keep your family as healthy as possible in the months ahead.
Early Fall is the Best Time to Get Vaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the flu shot in September or October.
“Getting vaccinated too early – say July or August – reduces protection against the flu later in the season, especially for older people,” said Jennifer Frank, MD, Chief Medical Officer at ThedaCare. “September and October are good times to get vaccinated, as it takes two weeks for the vaccine to provide immunity. However, as long as the flu virus is circulating, those who haven’t been vaccinated yet can do so even into January.”
The flu is typically active between October and April each year, peaking between December and February.
Dr. Frank stressed that it’s important to get vaccinated each year because the influenza virus is continually changing.
“Some years Influenza A is more active; other years it’s Influenza B or the H1N1 virus,” she noted. “The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match the circulating flu viruses.”
There are Several Flu Vaccination Options Available
“There is a standard dose flu shot, a high-dose shot for those over 65, a preservative-free shot and a nasal spray,” Dr. Frank explained. “Your primary care provider can advise which is best for you. When going to get a flu shot, observe the same practices you do every day for running essential errands – wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands.”
It is recommended that anyone over the age of six months be vaccinated for the flu. Anyone caring for an infant younger than six months should also be vaccinated against the flu.
“Since those younger infants cannot be vaccinated, they are at risk for serious flu complications,” said Dr. Frank. “Everyone around them needs to be vaccinated to reduce the risk of exposing them to the flu.”
The Flu Vaccination Does Not Protect Against COVID-19
“While many researchers are working on vaccines for COVID-19, there is not one approved as yet,” said Dr. Frank.
A number of vaccines are currently going through testing phases as required by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), with estimates that one may be available early next year.
However, the flu vaccination is essential to reducing the risk of getting the flu, and significantly decreases the rate of hospitalization and death.
“The respiratory flu can be a serious illness, especially for the very young, the very old, those with chronic health conditions and those who are pregnant,” Dr. Frank said. “That’s because those groups run the highest risk of developing a complication from the illness.”
It is Possible to Get the Flu and COVID-19 at the Same Time
Health experts are currently studying how common it might be for someone to contract the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, as well as trying to better predict what such an experience would be like.
“The symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between the diseases based on symptoms alone,” said Dr. Frank. “Diagnostic testing can help determine whether someone is experiencing the A or B flu virus or COVID-19, which can help health care providers decide on the best program of treatment.”
People Cannot Get the Flu from the Flu Shot
“The virus in the vaccine is not live and cannot give you the flu,” said D. Frank. “Some people may run a low-grade fever and feel a little under the weather for a few days after getting the shot, but that’s not the flu; rather it is their immune system kicking into gear. “In addition, the flu shot doesn’t protect against colds, so people will still be susceptible to getting colds, which might cause them to think they have the flu.”
Prevention is Everything
“With the possibility of Influenza and COVID-19 being active in our communities at the same time, we need everyone to follow social distancing guidelines, wear masks, wash their hands frequently and get a flu shot.”
Dr. Frank emphasized this is not the year to skip the flu shot.
“We all need to be very proactive about staying as healthy as possible to ward off the flu and COVID-19, and prevent complications from either disease,” she said. “That means eating healthy, getting good exercise and sufficient sleep, and practicing good self-care to stay mentally healthy. This is a challenging year. We all need to take extra steps to be healthy and to protect the health of those around us. Getting a flu shot should be an important part of our health plan.”
To schedule your flu shot, contact your primary care provider, or search for vaccination locations near you at https://vaccinefinder.org/