Get a flu shot now.
While timing a flu shot can seem like timing the stock market — buying or selling a stock now might mean missing out on gains later — it’s not. A flu shot generally provides immunological coverage against the flu from about four weeks after the shot until six months later.
With a flu season that doesn’t follow a yearly calendar, residents sometimes try to balance between minimizing the possible effect of exposure to the flu in the next few weeks with exposure to the flu in the middle of the spring.
“It makes most health professionals very uncomfortable when people [suggest holding off on protection through the spring] as a reason to delay immunization, as it takes four weeks for protective antibodies to mature,” said Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital. Influenza season can begin as early as November and sometimes earlier, so “any time now would be the right time.”
Medical professionals urged people to be even more proactive about getting a flu shot this year, as the pandemic continues to lurk in the shadows, on door knobs, and within six feet of an infected individual.
When people contract the flu along with other respiratory illnesses, the combination, as people might expect, can cause significant sickness.
“The novel coronavirus is just that, it’s novel,” Grosso said. “We don’t know exactly how it will interact with influenza. We do have significant prior experience with concurrent infections with other respiratory viruses. Individuals coinfected with one or more serious respiratory viruses frequently get sicker.”
That’s the case for both children and adults, Grosso added.
Getting an influenza vaccine could also reduce the confusion that will occur if people experience flu-like symptoms, which are also a hallmark of COVID-19 cases.
“Getting as much of the population immunized as possible is even more important than at other times,” Grosso said.
Each year, somewhere between 150,000 to 180,000 people are hospitalized from the flu and the death toll can range between 12,000 to 61,000 people per year in the U.S.
Doctors recommended that people who are 65 and older get a quadrivalent flu shot, which includes an additional influenza B strain.
In a trial of 30,000 people over 65, people who received the quadrivalent shot had 24% fewer illnesses compared to those who got the standard shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Susan Donelan, Medical Director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine, said the side effects of the flu shot include an uncomfortable arm for a few days, a low grade fever and fatigue.
“The vast majority of people can easily manage the minor side effects for a day or two with Tylenol or Ibuprofen or a cold pack on their arm,” Dr. Donelan said.
Doctors said practices such as wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent hand washing, which are designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, are also helpful in cutting down on the transmission of the flu.
Those measures will only help if residents exercise them correctly. Masks that fall below the nose of the wearer, which may make it easier to breathe, are not as effective at reducing the spread of these viruses, Dr. Donelan said.