Fighting influenza unarmed during this unpredictable winter is simply not a smart option.
If there ever was a year to get the flu vaccine, it’s the uncertain 2021-22 influenza season.
With the Delta Variant of the Coronavirus raging across the country like a virus vampire and pushing the U.S. medical system to its limit, healthcare officials are recommending in the strongest terms possible all Americans six months or older get the flu vaccine. The vaccine offers strengthened immune system defense against influenza, along with greater defense against COVID-19, which is infecting an average of over 100,000 Americans per day as the fourth wave of the Pandemic surges nationwide.
With the coronavirus’ startling revival this summer, health officials are concerned of the possibility of someone contracting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Both viruses running strong simultaneously could cause a “twindemic.”
“With the caveat that flu surprises us every year and no flu season is exactly like the one before it, this winter could be much worse than previous years if we’re batting COVID-19, a huge flu season, and a big RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) season,” Chloe Bryson-Cahn, MD, associate medical director of infection prevention at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, told Everyday Health. “It could really cause a lot of turmoil in our hospitals, our places of work and school.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is “preparing for flu virus circulation to return to pre-pandemic levels.” Several factors “could lead to the upcoming flu season being more severe than usual,” Lynette Brammer, team lead in the CDC’s Domestic Influenza Surveillance Team told CNBC.
- Antibodies that protect against flu wane over time.
- Immunity from flu vaccination wanes more quickly than immunity from natural infection.
- Because there was little flu virus activity last season, adult immunity (especially among those who were not vaccinated last season) will now depend more on exposure to viruses two or more seasons earlier.
- Young children also will have lower immunity to flu. They have not been previously vaccinated or had natural exposure. As children return to school and potentially get infected, there could be a higher number of children with no prior exposure to flu and therefore lower immunity which could increase illnesses.
The COVID-19 and influenza vaccines can quell those fears. Both shots are safe and effective, making it extremely unlikely that a person will experience severe symptoms of the disease.
Flu vaccines offer 40-60% effectiveness at preventing illness and keeping people out of the hospital when prevalent flu viruses are well matched to the vaccines. Dr. Natalie Azar of NBC News recommends adults receive the virus by the end of October. Children can get the shot at any time, she notes.
A note of caution: No one should receive the flu shot while symptomatic with COVID-19, per the American Academy of Pediatrics. There is no need to wait for any period of time between receiving the coronavirus vaccine and the flu vaccine.
Despite last year’s record-low flu season that saw the lowest recorded total of flu-related hospitalizations, we simply can’t let our guards down. Getting the flu vaccine now and continuing to practice strong hand hygiene and cold prevention methods are a must, for the coronavirus is unfortunately going nowhere but everywhere this season.
And trying to fight off both potentially deadly viruses without a vaccine is like trying to endure a 30-below zero night outside without a coat.
“With COVID here and taking such a toll in terms of morbidity and mortality, we really have to do everything we can to protect ourselves,” Dr. Lauren Block, a primary care physician and researcher at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, told Today.com. “That includes getting COVID vaccines, but also don’t forget about your annual flu vaccine.”
For we need all the defense we can get for this unpredictable cold and flu season.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about the 2021-2022 influenza season,” epidemiologist Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, told CNBC. “As we have learned from the last 18 months of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the decisions we make as individuals and communities can have a huge impact on the fate of an outbreak.
“We can and should do our part to prevent a catastrophic flu season by getting vaccinated early this fall and taking sensible precautions if and when the virus starts spreading widely.”