For the second year in a row, this flu season finds us battling not one but two serious and contagious respiratory illnesses at the same time. Both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu have effective vaccines that greatly reduce both your chance of infection and your chance of serious illness, hospitalization, and death. (And vaccines for the flu and COVID-19 are available at Carbon Health clinics, via quick same-day appointments.) As of this writing, COVID-19 has caused more than 660,000 deaths in the U.S. — 1 in 500 Americans have died of the disease since the first reported infection in this country, and the Delta variant is causing an alarming number of new cases, particularly in parts of the county where vaccination rates are low.
By itself, the flu causes significant mortality and morbidity. According to the CDC, the seasonal flu has caused between 12,000 and 61,000 each year since 2010. Together, these two viral illnesses have the potential to cause a catastrophic wave of health complications, hospitalizations, and deaths, overpowering hospitals’ ability to provide the highest level of care to all patients.
Getting vaccinated against both COVID-19 and the flu is the best way to protect yourself and your family from infection and serious illness.
It is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, and trust us when we say you don’t want that! Both viruses target the lungs and can cause severe illness. It’s already known that the flu puts a person at risk for a subsequent “superinfection” with other pathogens, such as the bacteria Staph aureus, which can cause a nasty case of pneumonia and worsen a person’s already compromised lung function. Factor in COVID-19, and your short and long-term health can be seriously at risk.
From a risk-benefit perspective, it’s far more beneficial to get the flu vaccine than to get sick with the flu. Legitimate contraindications aside, many of the common reasons patients list for not getting the flu vaccine are actually misperceptions that spread like wildfire on social media.
For example, many people who decline to get the flu shot say that they are worried about getting the flu from the injectable vaccine. This doesn’t happen, because the virus in the vaccine is inactivated and cannot reproduce, and therefore cannot give someone the flu. Someone who gets the flu shot and later develops symptoms may wrongly assume they were “given the flu.” They weren’t. Most likely, the symptoms are related to other predominant infections, such as the common cold which is also common during this time of year. It is possible that certain side effects some people experience from the flu shot, such as low-grade fever, fatigue, and body aches, are actually the flu vaccine doing its job — because the vaccine triggers the immune system to rev up and create antibodies to protect against the flu. This process can sometimes cause mild symptoms.
Another common reason people decline the flu shot is because they are worried about getting Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack the nerves and leads to tingling sensations and muscle weakness in the limbs. While GBS can happen after a vaccine, it’s extremely rare, and the risk of GBS is actually fifteen times higher after having the flu than after receiving the flu vaccine.
When someone gets sick from the flu, they can be off their feet for a long time. This greatly impacts their work and personal life. In addition, they may develop long-term medical complications if they become severely ill. When the flu vaccine is well matched to the predominant viral strains, it reduces the risk of illness by 40 to 60 percent. While vaccination rates are unfortunately low in the U.S. (in the 2020–2021 flu season, 55 percent of adults received the flu shot), the CDC estimates that during the 2019–2020 flu season, the vaccine prevented 4.4 million flu cases, 58,000 hospitalizations, and 3,500 deaths. Let those numbers sink in!
The flu shot also significantly reduces intensive care needs and the duration of hospitalizations. Some people decline to get the flu shot because they “got it in the past and got the flu anyway.” Depending on a person’s age, health status, and how well matched the vaccine is, this can happen; however, research shows the flu vaccine still offers protection and lessens the severity of infection.
A surge in COVID-19 patients can quickly overwhelm a hospital. A simultaneous influx of flu patients could be devastating. Some flu patients require hospitalizations and intensive care, so getting the flu shot this year not only protects your health but also can help conserve our healthcare capacity and free up hospital beds for people with other acute and chronic medical conditions. While we’re in the midst of a pandemic, other medical needs continue: heart attacks, traumatic injuries, childbirth, and so on. The more people who are vaccinated and not in the hospital with a serious case of the flu or COVID-19, the better equipped hospital personnel will be to provide care in the event that you or a loved one needs attention for one of those reasons.
This year, don’t let the flu stop you — book a same-day appointment for a flu vaccine and start the season right.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.