Being vaccinated against influenza is a smart thing to do every year, but getting the flu shot this year is especially important because health care resources continue to be strained by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
“With strong supplies of influenza vaccine already available, now is the time to make arrangements for your shot,” said Siu Ming Geary, MD, an internal medicine physician and vice president of primary care for Scripps Clinic Medical Group. “Getting vaccinated will help protect you from a potentially severe illness and reduce your chances of ending up in local hospitals and clinics that are already full of patients dealing with other illnesses and conditions.”
Symptoms for flu, such as fever, coughing, headache and fatigue, are very similar to those for COVID-19, 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 both influenza and COVID-19 can result in severe illness and complications, including hospitalization and death,” Dr. Geary said. “This year, with the dangerous Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus surging, it is especially important to be vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the flu. It is safe to receive both vaccines at the same time and being vaccinated for both viruses is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from these potentially dangerous illnesses.”
Although flu vaccine supplies have sometimes run thin in the past, that isn’t the case this year. Pharmaceutical companies have produced up to 200 million doses of the vaccine for the U.S. market.
“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 again, it’s not too early to get the flu shot right now.”
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 use the MyScripps portal to schedule a visit to their primary care physician to receive vaccination for influenza, pneumonia and other illnesses, or they can call their primary care physician’s office directly. Others can dial 1-800-SCRIPPS 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 2021-22 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.
- Getting the COVID-19 vaccination also will help to protect you and your family from illness.
Learn more about Scripps Health, a nonprofit integrated health system in San Diego, Calif.