Getting your flu shot is more important than ever

Published in Wellness Tag: Ryan Davis, DO  

Author: Ryan Davis, DO

Every year, the seasonal flu affects tens of millions of Americans. Typically, it starts to appear in October and peaks between December and February, resulting in thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year.

Yet, even with a flu vaccine that is readily available and free for most people with a healthcare plan, over half of all Americans who are eligible for the shot choose not to get it. That is concerning to medical experts who worry how the co-mingling of influenza and COVID-19 patients this winter will impact an already overburdened healthcare system.

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), the total number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has reached over 6.3 million with 191,000 deaths. As a comparison, the 2017-2018 flu season (which was particularly severe) resulted in about 45 million cases but only 61,000 deaths – far fewer than COVID-19. That’s because this is a novel coronavirus that our bodies simply haven’t encountered it before, so we have no built-up immunity.

Now, consider the risk of encountering both these illnesses in a single season. Experts are not sure how the body will respond to having one illness right after the other or a combination of both at the same time. Since the symptoms are similar, the impact could be especially hard on the body’s respiratory system and its ability to recover.

Equally concerning, hospitals and emergency rooms already see a large influx of flu patients each winter. Couple that with an increase in COVID-19 patients, and hospitals will quickly become overburdened. Available beds could become scarce, medical resources could be in short supply, and healthcare workers will become quickly overwhelmed. It’s a realistic scenario that medical experts dread.

The solution? Get your flu shot. It’s a simple procedure that not only helps protect you from getting the flu, it also prevents you from passing it on to people who are at a higher risk of getting very sick.

Once you’ve received your shot, it takes about two weeks to achieve immunity. That means it’s important to plan ahead and not procrastinate. September and October are the best times to be vaccinated to make sure you’ll be fully immunized throughout flu season.

Still, even if you forget to get your flu shot or put it off, experts say it’s better late than never. The shot will still provide immunity (for you and others) and will protect you up to six months.

Carris Health clinics are now offering appointments for the influenza vaccine. A variety of dates and times are available, and some locations also offer drive-thru options.

A Few Important Reminders

  • Call your local clinic between 8 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday to schedule an appointment.
  • The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months, including pregnant women.
  • Please wear short sleeves for your appointment and bring your insurance card.

For information on influenza (flu), visit the Minnesota Department of Health’s website at https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/flu/