The COVID-19 virus has been the top health concern throughout much of 2020 and continues to make headlines as we move into fall. October is typically the start of flu season in San Diego, but is the flu an issue during the pandemic?
The answer is yes. The flu is still a serious illness, and avoiding it may also help you avoid COVID. In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Scripps Clinic internal medicine physician Siu Ming Geary, MD, about the importance of getting a flu vaccine.
The influenza virus — commonly known as the flu — kills more than 36,000 people each year; hundreds of thousands more are hospitalized.
“The flu shot is important not only to help protect yourself from getting the flu, but also to minimize complications if you do get it,” says Dr. Geary.
There are multiple strains of the flu virus. Each year, researchers determine which strains are likely to be most prevalent and develop a vaccine that targets them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age six months and older get the vaccine; it is especially important for people who have a higher risk of developing complications from the flu. This includes people who are over age 65 and those with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease.
Dr. Geary says the vaccine is also recommended for pregnant women to protect both mother and baby. “Studies show that after you’ve given birth, the shot provides protection for your baby for the first few months after birth,” she says. “This is very important since we don’t have a flu vaccine that’s approved for infants up to the age of six months.”
The vaccine may have mild side effects, such as body aches and slight swelling at the site of injection. Some people may get a headache, low fever or nausea, but these are minor compared to the flu.
It takes about two weeks after the vaccine to develop immunity to the virus, so the best time to get it is before the flu hits your community.
“The ideal time to get the vaccine is in September and October, before the virus really starts to spread,” says Dr. Geary. “That said, if you don’t get it by the end of October for some reason, it’s still a good idea in November or December, provided that there’s still flu circulating in the community.”
The flu and COVID-19 share symptoms, such as fever, cough and respiratory problems. Both are spread through close contact with people who are infected. Still, they are different viruses, and the flu shot will not protect you against COVID.
However, by reducing your chances of getting flu, the vaccine can help keep you out of the doctor’s office or hospital. The flu can weaken your immune system, making your more susceptible to other infections.
Scripps patients can call their primary care physician to schedule a visit to be vaccinated, and others can dial 619-393-3238 for flu vaccination information. Concerns about exposure to COVID may make some people reluctant to go get a flu shot, but Dr. Geary says precautions are in place to protect patients.
“We have a lot of safety measures in place to keep you safe,” says Dr. Geary. “This includes mandatory face masks, special cleaning protocols and physical distancing. And that’s not just for the flu vaccine, it’s for all of your care. Your health is of the utmost importance here at Scripps.”