Don’t Forget to Get Your Flu Shot This Year
There is a serious respiratory virus making the rounds that can cause serious illness or death—and we’re not talking about COVID-19. Although COVID-19 has had a tight grip on the world for two years, it isn’t the only health threat facing Americans. This year, it is as important as ever to remain vigilant against influenza.
Thanks to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, influenza rates were extremely low in the 2020–2021 season, with just over 1,500 cases nationwide. In the 2021–2022 season, rates have risen, and it is important to get a flu vaccine to reduce the risk of serious illness.
“Getting a flu shot is just as important this season as in years past,” says Sarah Hilton, a registered nurse. “Respiratory viruses like COVID-19 and influenza can hit seniors hard, and protecting yourself with a vaccine is one of the best ways to stay healthy.”
While the flu may have taken a back seat to COVID in your mind, it is crucial to get your flu shot as soon as you can. Here’s what you need to know about the flu, its vaccine, and its relationship with COVID precautions and vaccination.
Is the Flu a Risk This Year?
Influenza is a risk every winter, even when the world has been focused on COVID-19 for so long. Although flu illnesses may take a back seat to daily news updates about the fight against COVID-19, the virus is very much active this winter. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were about 2 million flu illnesses by the end of January 2022, including 20,000 hospitalizations and 1,200 deaths.
Won’t COVID-19 Precautions Protect Me?
By now, the public is well-acquainted with measures that can be taken to protect them against COVID-19. Wearing a mask, keeping a physical distance, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine are critical components in the fight against COVID-19, but the job isn’t finished when it comes to influenza.
Masking and keeping a physical distance will help protect people against respiratory viruses, but they should not be the only tool. Additionally, the COVID-19 vaccine is only designed to work against the COVID-19 virus. People still need to get their annual influenza vaccine to protect themselves against influenza.
Does the Flu Vaccine Work?
A flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against the virus each winter. Flu vaccines are designed to match prevalent strains of the virus that circulate annually, which means the vaccine will target different strains each year. The match isn’t always perfect, but the vaccine reduces the risk of illness by about 40–60 percent.
Even if the vaccine doesn’t match exactly to the main circulating virus strains, recent research shows it may provide significant protection anyway. One CDC study found that vaccinated children had about 78 percent protection against severe infection from well-matched virus strains. When the strain was not well matched, the children still had about 47 percent protection.
Should I Wait Until After My COVID-19 Vaccine?
There is no need to wait to get an influenza vaccine until after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Save yourself a trip and get both shots in the same visit. The influenza vaccine can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine or any necessary booster dose. Side effects for either vaccine should be similar, whether the shots are given one at a time or together. As long as the correct schedule is followed for getting a dose of either vaccine, there is no problem receiving both vaccines in the same visit.
As you continue to protect yourself against COVID-19, don’t forget about influenza. Both viruses pose significant risks for individuals of all ages—especially seniors. Get a flu vaccine for the best protection against the virus this year.