Last year, less than half of all adults in the United States got their flu shot. If you were in the group that skipped the shot, you may want to rethink your plans. That is because getting a flu vaccine this year will be more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the fall and winter months this year, flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be circulating in our communities. Getting COVID-19 and the flu at the same time could result in a long hospital stay and need for intensive care. Not only is that dangerous for you, it could also put additional pressure on hospitals already treating coronavirus patients.
Flu vs. COVID-19
Let’s start off by breaking down the similarities and differences between flu viruses and COVID-19.
Different viruses cause flu and COVID-19. However, they have similar symptoms, including fever, cough, breathing difficulties and fatigue. There are also certain individuals, such as older adults and people with underlying medical conditions, who have a greater risk of developing complications from both a flu infection and COVID-19.
Handwashing, physical distancing and mask wearing help reduce the spread of both flu and COVID-19. It’s important for everyone to continue following these guidelines right now.
There’s also one more BIG thing you can do: get vaccinated! While no vaccine for COVID-19 is available right now, you can still benefit from a flu vaccine in the coming months.
How the flu vaccine works
The flu vaccine makes your body produce antibodies that protect it from flu viruses. Each year, researchers identify the types of influenza viruses they believe will be circulating for that year. Vaccines provide protection against the top three or four strains of the virus that are most active during flu season. Even if you become sick with a different flu strain than the ones in the vaccine, the flu shot can still help protect your health and reduce the severity of your sickness.
Getting an annual flu shot offers several important health benefits, especially for people in high-risk groups. Those benefits include:
- keeping you from getting sick
- reducing complications that require a hospital visit if you do get sick
- experiencing milder symptoms compared to someone who didn’t get a flu shot
Can you still get COVID-19 after getting a flu shot?
COVID-19 is caused by a different virus, so a flu shot doesn’t provide protection from it. However, a flu shot offers other advantages during the current pandemic. It reduces your risk of getting the flu, so you’re less likely to have both illnesses at the same time. It also lowers your chance of complications, so there is less of a chance you’ll need intensive care. This will help conserve hospital resources too, so they can best care for your community.
Is it safe to get a flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes, of course! We continue to take extra precautions to protect your safety. Once the flu vaccine is available this year, you’ll be able to get it at a number of places, such as a local pharmacy, health department or your health care provider’s office. At our flu shot locations, we will have COVID-19 safety precautions in place, just like at all of our facilities.
When to get a flu shot
If you get a flu shot too early, you may not be protected through the end of flu season. And if you wait too long, you risk getting infected. Around and during the month of October seems to be the flu shot sweet spot. Talk to your primary care provider to see if they have any suggestions on timing based on your personal health history.
Stay updated on what Mercy Health is doing related to COVID-19.