Health Experts Encourage Flu Shots
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The upcoming fall and winter months could see another major nationwide surge in COVID-19 infections. Public health experts are even more wary, however, of another potential crisis, a “twindemic” of both COVID-19 and influenza. All the way back in April, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the country could see the “worst fall, from a public health perspective, that we’ve ever had.” Robert Redfield has changed his tone little in the months since and repeated that exact warning last week. He joins other prominent public health figures in imploring Americans to get themselves vaccinated before flu season begins in December.
Typically, the CDC arms itself with 500,000 doses of the flu vaccine for uninsured Americans. This year, they’ve purchased an extra 10 million in hopes that they can encourage more people than ever to take this precautionary measure. Last year, just under 47% of Americans got vaccinated and the CDC hopes at least 65% will do so in 2020.
COVID-19 and the Flu
Speaking to WebMD, Redfield reminds Americans that — despite the existence of vaccines — influenza remains a grave public health threat. In the last decade alone, the flu has killed more than 350,000 Americans. Last year’s “mild” flu season saw anywhere from 24,000 to 62,000 deaths, according to preliminary CDC estimates. Even mild seasons like that one tend to put serious strain on hospitals and other healthcare providers. A two-pronged wave of deadly respiratory viruses could mean an unprecedented struggle to administer care.
The flu and COVID-19 share a number of symptoms. Both illnesses can lead to sore throats, fevers, fatigue, and muscle aches. One key difference between COVID-19 and flu symptoms is the speed at which they tend to emerge. COVID-19 has flummoxed the public health sector largely because it can take up to two weeks for someone to develop symptoms. As such, affected individuals often unwittingly spread the virus for days or weeks. Flu symptoms, the CDC notes, are typically notable within 1 to 4 days of infection.
How Do Flu Shots Work?
Influenza is not just one disease, but an entire family of viruses. Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducts studies to determine which specific strains are most likely to threaten the Northern hemisphere during the next flu season. Their findings help guide vaccine manufacturers who produce shots including weakened versions of various strains. Once injected, these weakened viruses enter the body and inspire an immune response. In their weakened state, they’re no match for a healthy army of germ-fighting substances and soon an immunity is developed.
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Skepticism towards the flu vaccine is common and The New York Times acknowledges that “indeed, it is a good vaccine but not a great one.” Patients require annual doses, immunity can take weeks, and efficacy ranges from around 40 – 60%. This should not, however, discourage Americans who can safely get vaccinated from doing so. Dr. Jane Zucker, an assistant commissioner in New York’s Bureau of Administration, notes, “a vaccine not given won’t protect anyone.”
After all, vaccines aren’t just about securing immunity on an individual level. They help to keep whole populations safe through “herd immunity.” Getting vaccinated helps protect everyone you come in contact with and widespread immunity is particularly crucial for individuals who can’t get vaccinated.
Flu shot requirements aren’t common, but they may soon become a common practice for schools and businesses. The University of California school system is requiring all 500,000-plus of its students and employees to receive a vaccine before November 1st.
Getting Your Flu Shot
The ongoing pandemic will most definitely complicate the process of distributing, administering, and accessing this year’s flu vaccine. Pharmacies and grocery stores will once again join more traditional providers in the fight against influenza. With additional safety precautions, they’re expected to play a bigger role than ever before. Most seniors should have several options for quickly and affordably getting vaccinated in their area.
It’s normal to feel sick shortly after getting vaccinated — this doesn’t mean that you’ve contracted the flu. Your mild symptoms are actually a sign that the vaccine is doing its job and that your immune system is mounting an effective response. Slight flu-ish symptoms should be greeted as a good sign. They mean you’re unlikely to come down with a more severe case.
In addition to getting vaccinated, health officials continue to recommend precautions that should sound familiar to everyone. These include avoiding large groups, wearing face masks in public, and staying alert for symptoms of both COVID-19 and influenza infections.