Many of us are feeling coronavirus overload. We’re tired of the threat of COVID-19 and its persistent grasp on our daily lives. Tired of worrying about every sniffle and cough. Tired of the uncertainty.
To compound our concerns, flu season is on our doorstep. The good news is we are empowered to do something about it—by simply getting a flu shot. This is an illness that you can control and have an impact on because a vaccine is already available.
This year, it’s more important than ever to get a flu shot.
“COVID-19 is already straining hospitals and the health care system,” explains Nick Holekamp, MD, vice president and chief medical officer at Ranken Jordan. “By adding people with the flu to hospitals, health care resources will be stretched to the breaking point. Getting a flu shot can protect your family as well as help others during this already stressful time.”
Last year, the flu caused more than 50 million illnesses, 740,000 hospitalizations, and 62,000 deaths.
One of the additional challenges is that symptoms of flu and COVID-19 overlap. In many cases, it may be difficult to differentiate the flu from COVID-19 symptoms without testing.
“It’s important to identify the illness so appropriate infection control measures can be taken,” Dr. Holekamp says. “Antiviral treatment for influenza given within 48 hours of symptoms decreases the severity of symptoms as well as risk of death.”
Another reason to get a flu shot is that it can reduce the risk of someone getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could cause severe illness even in the healthiest people.
Those who are at high risk of severe illness with COVID-19 are also high-risk with influenza. That includes the vulnerable children with medical complexity at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.
“It’s vital to protect the high-risk children we care for by preventing influenza, as well as COVID-19,” Dr. Holekamp says. “More than half of our children are on ventilators to help them breathe. A respiratory infection can be life-threatening for these children. Getting vaccinated against the flu is the first step the community can take to protect themselves and our vulnerable children. This is in addition to other precautions like masking, social distancing and hand washing that we should all be taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
The Truth About Flu Shots
A recent study showed that the flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit admission by 74%. Significantly, studies also found that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of flu-associated deaths by half among children with high-risk medical conditions and by two-thirds of children without medical conditions.
Yet some people skip the flu vaccine because they have misconceptions about it.
Dr. Holekamp wants to set the record straight with facts about the flu shot:
- The vaccine does not give you the flu.
- Flu vaccines are made using strict safety and production measures. Millions of people have safely received flu vaccines for decades.
- The vaccine is safe for people who have an egg allergy. Different types of vaccinations are available.
- Getting a flu shot does not make you more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
- No part of COVID-19 is integrated into the flu vaccine.
- Vaccinating pregnant women also helps protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth.
- Previous infection with the flu or a flu vaccine last year does not protect you from flu this year. Flu viruses are constantly changing. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year.
- The CDC recommends everyone over age 6 months get the flu vaccine, with rare exceptions.
Be Proactive in this Fight Against Viruses
At Ranken Jordan, all team members receive the flu vaccine. Patient families also are encouraged to get the vaccine and are screened for flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms at every visit. In addition, every patient admitted who is over 6 months receives a flu vaccine.
“One of our big concerns during flu season as well as with this coronavirus outbreak is keeping our employees healthy,” Dr. Holekamp says. “If our employees are exposed to the flu in the community, they can’t come to work to provide the necessary care for our patients. This means we would experience an acute shortage of qualified staff to care for our vulnerable patients who often need round-the-clock care.”
Dr. Holekamp says it’s important to pay attention to even the most minor symptoms since they can be the beginning of a more serious illness.
“When you have symptoms, you should stay home from work, an event or visiting a loved one to protect families and co-workers. Don’t risk exposing others to what could be the flu or COVID-19.”
In addition, he recommends getting a flu shot by the end of October. It takes about two weeks for the body to build immune protection after the vaccine. Most pharmacies, health departments and doctor’s offices offer flu vaccines.
Taking Control During a Challenging Time
The silver lining about current COVID-19 prevention routines, such as wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent hand washing, is that these practices also reduce the spread of flu. But people also need to get a flu shot to have the most impact, Dr. Holekamp advises.
“Together, we need to do all we can to protect the at-risk kids at Ranken Jordan as well as all families from the additional impact of flu this season. While we may not have a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 yet, we do have a vaccine to prevent the flu. This vaccine gives us some control over flu outbreaks so we have fewer things to worry about during this challenging year.”