Just over half of Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid, and another big shot is already underway: the flu shot.
Experts say the flu season will be particularly brutal this year. In general, the flu season is easier to manage when a part of the population has a natural immunity to the infection of the previous year. But because many Americans have spent the past fall and winter constantly washing their hands and socializing, fewer people than usual have contracted the flu.
That means a higher than average number of people are now at risk, especially as more Americans have let their guard down against COVID in recent months.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu shot, which only 48% of American adults had in late 2019 and early 2020, during the last pre-Covid flu season. Here’s why the flu shot can be very helpful this year, and when you should get it:
Why the flu shot is more important this year
This season, the flu will be “a little bit unpredictable,” Dr. Claire Rock, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told CNBC Make It.
One reason: Scientists typically develop annual flu shots based on the makeup of flu strains that circulated the previous year. The gap from last year means this year’s vaccine is difficult to manufacture, Rock says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when vaccines “match well” with the influenza virus in circulation, they can reduce the risk of illness by 40% to 60%. This year’s numbers can be difficult to predict.
There is no reason to skip your flu shot this year. No vaccine is ever 100% effective, and if you are vaccinated your chances of getting seriously ill are very low. “The idea is that this year this flu shot will be as effective as it usually is,” Rock said. “But there’s just one more challenge that went into the mix.”
Another challenge is the possibility that influenza and covid can spread at the same time. “During the Covid pandemic, there are potentially problems around every corner,” says Rock. “So I think the premise we’re really taking is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, used mathematical modeling to determine what the worst-case scenario might look like. Researchers have determined that if vaccination rates are low and this year’s strain is particularly contagious, there could be 600,000 hospitalizations this flu season.
For the prospect, that’s about three times as many flu-related hospitalizations the United States typically sees in a year.
How to protect yourself from the flu and covid
First, get your flu shot. This is the easiest way to reduce your chances of contracting the virus. As Dr.Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, told NBC News on September 9, “We don’t want the flu season to be any worse than what we are already seeing with COVID-19. “
In this time of pandemic, many hospitals across the country are inundated with cases of COVID. Your flu shot can help you avoid hospitalization for reasons unrelated to Covid, a simple way to relieve that stress.
If you have health insurance, you can get a free flu shot at most pharmacies, as well as many health clinics, colleges, and workplaces. If you don’t have insurance, you can expect to pay around $ 40 for the vaccine, or up to $ 74 if you need an egg-free version of the vaccine due to allergies. can.
Second, after getting a flu shot, be strict about wearing a mask in public places and practicing good hand hygiene, especially after coughing and sneezing. If you are sick, stay home and avoid close contact with other people to prevent the spread.
Like COVID, the flu is spread primarily through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. In rare cases, the virus can spread on surfaces. Many people are more lax about wearing masks and social distancing than last year, which could lead to an earlier and more dangerous flu season.
The CDC says it’s likely the flu and COVID will spread this fall and winter, and yes, it’s possible to get infected with both at the same time. They have similar symptoms – such as fever, chills, or cough – so it will be very important to get tested when you are feeling down.
Constant vigilance can be exhausting, but these simple steps that kept so many people from getting sick last year can help you avoid both COVID and the flu this year.
when to get the flu shot
The CDC recommends getting the flu shot in early fall, by the end of October. This part is normal: the time before the peak of influenza activity, usually between December and February, helps prepare your immune system.
“As with the Covid vaccine, it takes a few weeks after you have [flu] So that your immune system responds to the vaccine, ”says Rock. “So you want to make sure you have enough immunity when we start the flu season.”
Here’s the unusual part: This year, the timing of the flu shot may be in line with when some people expect to receive Covid booster shots.
This can be good news, as it is easier to receive two vaccines on the same day than to go to the doctor’s office or the pharmacy several times. It’s safe to receive both on the same day, Rock says, adding that your doctor will administer the vaccines in separate arms to reduce any discomfort from side effects.
In contrast, some experts say the reluctance of the Kovid vaccine could reduce the number of people vaccinated against the flu this year. Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told Healthline in late July: “Even people who have been given the COVID-19 vaccine have some sort of vaccine fatigue. “
If flu shots are already available near you, don’t wait for a COVID booster to become available – go ahead and get yourself the flu shot. It is not yet clear when and to whom the booster injections can be given.
And if you can’t get the shot right away, you should know that flu shots are usually available until January. “It’s definitely, definitely better late,” says Rock.
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