Get your flu in September – before cases start to climb


With the coronavirus still widespread, it’s time to start thinking seriously about flu, which typically spreads in fall and winter. A major flu outbreak would not only overwhelm hospitals this fall and winter, but also likely overwhelm a person who can contract both at the same time.

Doctors do not yet have a way of knowing what the effect of a dual diagnosis can be on a person’s body, but they do know the destruction that the flu can only do to a person’s body. And, we know that the US death toll from COVID-19 on August 17 was 170,000, and doctors are learning more every day about the effects of the disease on the body. U.S. public health officials are therefore urging people to get the flu vaccine, which is already being shipped in several areas to be ready for September vaccinations.

Influenza cases are expected to start to increase in early October and may last until the end of May. This makes September and early October the ideal time to get your flu.

But there is reason to worry that flu vaccination rates could be lower this year than in previous years, even though the risk of becoming seriously ill may be higher due to widespread coronavirus circulation.

In an effort to prevent illness, millions of Americans have been unable to see their health care provider in recent months. Social distance and home stay orders have resulted in a reduced use of routine medical preventive services such as vaccinations. Many employers who often do not provide flu for employees let employees work from home, potentially limiting the number of people who get the flu on their job.

As a professional health care professional, I encourage everyone to get the flu vaccine in September. Please do not wait for flu cases to start pecking. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness, so getting the vaccine in September will help provide the best protection, as the flu takes place in October and later in the season.

To read: CDC director warns that America is in the ‘worst case scenario … we’ve ever been’

A lifesaver in previous years, but more so now

Both COVID-19 and influenza are contagious respiratory diseases that present with similar symptoms. Both viruses can affect the elderly and those with certain chronic conditions, such as heart and lung disease, the hardest.

Data on flu vaccination rates for 2018-2019 show that only 49% of Americans aged six months and older received the flu vaccine. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies each season, with early data from the green season 2019-2020, indicating a rate of effectiveness of 50% in general, and 55% in youth.

While some may think this effectiveness rate is low, the flu vaccine remains the only way to prevent the flu and related complications. For example, in the 2018-2019 flu season, flu vaccination was estimated to prevent 4.4 million flu cases, 58,000 flu hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths. Early data from the 2019 -2020 flu season estimated that there were 39-56 million flu diseases, 18-26 million flu-related medical visits, 410-740,000 hospitalizations and up to 62,000 deaths. Much of this disease burden is prevented by higher vaccination rates for influenza.

It is now very clear that COVID-19 will still be circulating during the flu season, which makes getting a flu vaccine more important than ever. As schools, our communities and our economy continue to reopen, it is vital to get the flu vaccine for personal, family and community protection.

Severe cases of both COVID-19 and influenza require the same life-saving medical equipment. This highlights the importance of getting the flu vaccine for not only your own personal health but also the health of your community. Receiving the vaccine for flu will help reduce the burden of breathing in the respiratory system on our already highly exaggerated healthcare system. By increasing flu vaccination rates, we can reduce the overall impact of respiratory diseases on the population and thus reduce the resulting burden on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because influenza vaccination protects against any of these respiratory diseases, the CDC recommends that everyone (with a few exceptions) from six months of age and older receive an annual influenza vaccine. While the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, the flu vaccine will reduce your risk of developing the flu as well as reduce your risk of flu-related complications including hospitalization and even death.

While it may seem like there is so much out of our control during this pandemic, getting the flu vaccine, practicing good hand washing, social distance and wearing face masks are our control and will affect not only you but also your family and protect community.

If you are not getting the flu vaccine from your employer, think about alternative sources now. Faxes should be available in most areas by September 1st.

  • Call the doctor’s office to ask how you can get a flu.
  • Call your local public health department.
  • Remember to get a fax when you shop or pick up prescriptions.

In particular, make sure you take advantage of this potentially life-saving vaccine. Get it now on your calendar for early September. And remember, the flu shot can not give you the flu.

Libby Richards is an Associate Professor of Nursing at Purdue University in West Lafayette, India. This was first published by The Conversation – “Getting a flu is more important this year than ever because of COVID-19”