4 reasons your flu shot is more important than ever
On top of all the smart, compelling and science-based reasons to get a flu vaccine, this year you have a crucial motivator that should make your decision to get the shot easy.
Things will get problematic quickly if our country buckles under the pressure of having to simultaneously test and care for two highly contagious, deadly respiratory illnesses. While researchers are working furiously to find breakthrough solutions for managing the coronavirus, we already have the advantage of a vaccine for influenza that’s our best weapon against the flu each year.
I can’t stress this enough: Get your flu shot—ideally in late September through mid-October, but really any time before March. Everyone older than 6 months should be vaccinated. It’s critical.
If we don’t all do our best to guard against the flu this year, here’s what could happen.
- You could catch both the flu and the coronavirus. We haven’t seen a lot of reported cases of COVID-19 and flu coinfection—that is, a person having both illnesses at the same time—but we really don’t know just how likely that is yet. The bigger concern could be catching one after the other, a brutal one-two punch to your immune system. Even if you don’t end up in the hospital, your recovery could take a long time.
- You’ll miss out on some valuable protection. The flu vaccine is effective about 60% of the time, which I assure you is better than the 0% protection you get from skipping the shot. Even if you get the flu, the vaccine may reduce the severity of your illness. And emerging studies show it might give your immune system a boost that could help if you get sick with COVID-19.
- You could endanger the people you love. As often as you may hear this, it bears repeating: a flu vaccine doesn’t protect just you. It also protects all the people you might otherwise have infected. That includes your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers who are vulnerable to both the flu and COVID-19. If you don’t want to get a shot for yourself, get one for them.
- We face a real, significant risk of overwhelming the health care system. Last year, according to preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 56 million people got the flu, and up to 26 million sought medical attention. Of those, between 410,000 and 740,000 were hospitalized, and anywhere from 24,000 to 62,000 died. Now add to the mix COVID-19, which has already sickened millions and killed at least 180,000 people (a number that’s likely rising even as you’re reading this), and you get an idea of how overloaded health care facilities could become once flu season hits.
Randell Wexler is a family physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and a professor in the Ohio State College of Medicine.