Why a 2020 influenza shot is so important

October 29, 2020

By Eric S. Quivers, MD FAAP, FACC

Eric S. Quivers, MD

We are entering the 2020 flu season and “It is time to get your flu shot!” Really the word should be vaccine as there is a form that is a nasal spray. No matter how you look at it, it is very important to be vaccinated against the flu virus this season! This year is like no other due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the first time in history, the world is having to deal with both viral infections. Both are respiratory viruses with potentially serious consequences, including death. Both can infect many individuals. It is strongly recommended that everyone aged 6 months and older get the flu shot this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those with chronic health conditions and older adults should get the flu shot as individuals in these groups are more likely to experience complications if infected. Those who fall into this group are 65 years and older, have co-morbidities such as asthma, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and women who are pregnant. Others who are at high risk include young children including children with nervous system diseases, cancer patients, weakened immune systems, and racial and ethnic minorities. The flu vaccination not only protects the person getting the vaccination but those around them and those they encounter. The flu vaccine is very effective in reducing your chances of becoming infected or lessen the severity of the illness. By doing so, the burden on the health care delivery system such as emergency rooms, clinics and hospitals can be reduced. These very same health care providers have been on the frontline of treating patients with COVID-19 infections.

We are now surging in Wisconsin with COVID-19 infections. In certain parts of the state, the number of hospital beds available are few due to number of COVID-19 patients occupying the beds. The health care system is in great risk of being overwhelmed. The flu virus has a preventive treatment, the flu vaccine. This would go a long way towards protecting those who are putting their lives on the line for us, the frontline health care workers. If you are not sick with the flu, you are less likely to go to a clinic, emergency room or urgent care office where you can be exposed to someone with a COVID-19 infection.

The infections share common symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headache and rarely vomiting and diarrhea. Those with COVID-19 may have these symptoms, as well. Other symptoms that are more unique to a COVID-19 infection include a new loss of sense of smell or taste. More concerning symptoms include new onset confusion, sleepiness, constant pressure in the chest and bluish lips. If you have any of these symptoms seek medical advice immediately.

Let us all do our part in protecting each other during these very uncertain times. The flu vaccine helps prevent the flu infection and practicing social distancing, good hand washing and wearing masks helps to stop the spread of both the coronavirus and the flu virus.