Being vaccinated against influenza is a smart thing to do every year, but getting the flu shot this year is especially important because the illness will be circulating alongside coronavirus, which could strain health care resources across the country.
“If you normally get the flu shot each year, then now is the time to make arrangements for your vaccination, and if you rarely or never get a shot, then this is the year to start doing it,” said Siu Ming Geary, MD, an internal medicine physician and vice president of primary care for Scripps Clinic Medical Group.
Symptoms for flu, such as fever, coughing, headache and fatigue, are very similar to those for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and both viruses attack the respiratory system. It remains unclear how the two viruses might interact or affect overall sickness when infecting the same person.
“We don’t yet know how bad this year’s flu season will be, but it is possible to get both the coronavirus and the flu at the same time," Dr. Geary said. “Both can result in severe illness and complications, including hospitalization and death. While there is not a readily available vaccine for coronavirus, we do know that being vaccinated for influenza is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from getting the flu.”
Beyond the physical discomfort and schedule disruptions that a routine case of influenza can bring, the virus also can be deadly. Last year, 105 people died from the flu in San Diego County, while the virus killed as many as 62,000 nationwide. The 2017-2018 season was even worse with 343 deaths in San Diego County and 79,000 nationwide.
“While some experts may disagree about the optimum timing to receive the flu shot, most, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend getting the shot by the end of October,” Dr. Geary said. “As for this year, with the coronavirus pandemic still in full swing, it’s not too early to get the flu shot right now.”
While flu vaccine supplies have sometimes run thin in the past, that shouldn’t be the case this year. Pharmaceutical companies have produced up to 198 million doses of the vaccine for the U.S. market, a record-setting amount that tops last year’s supply by an additional 20 million.
Flu vaccine is now available widely across San Diego County, including at most Scripps Clinic and Scripps Coastal primary care sites, which are open by appointment to all Scripps patients.
Drive-through vaccination is also available at selected sites by appointment. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, everyone is required to wear face masks while at Scripps facilities, including for the drive-through appointments.
Scripps patients can call their primary care physician to schedule a visit to be vaccinated, and others can dial 800-727-4777 for flu vaccination information.
The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months or older, especially those who are at high risk for complications from the flu, including people 65 years and older; children under the age of 2; pregnant women; and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, blood disorders, weakened immune systems and morbid obesity.
Because there are many different flu viruses and they constantly evolve, this year’s vaccine is designed to cover the four strains expected to be the most common in circulation during the 2020-21 influenza season: Influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), influenza B (Victoria) and influenza B (Yamagata).
Once the vaccine is administered, it takes about two weeks for the body to build up enough antibodies to develop immunity.
Common flu symptoms include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue, and some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea.
Scripps physicians also recommend these other practices during flu season:
- Wear a facemask when out in public.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Watch out for flu symptoms, which can include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
- Stay away from sick people.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- If you become sick, stay home from work and school, and avoid contact with others. The CDC recommends staying home for a least 24 hours after a fever is gone without using fever-reducing medicine.
- Avoid the emergency room unless you are suffering from more serious flu symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; chest or abdomen pain or pressure; sudden dizziness; confusion; severe or persistent vomiting; or flu symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough.
- For children, seek emergency medical help if they are breathing fast or are having trouble breathing; have bluish skin color; aren’t drinking enough fluids; aren’t waking up or interacting; are so irritable they don’t want to be held; have a fever with a rash; aren’t able to eat, don’t shed tears when crying; have significantly fewer wet diapers than normal; or have flu symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough.
- Check with your doctor to see if you should be treated with an antiviral drug.