By William Kim, M.D., Chief Medical Advisor, Beach Cities Health District
Flu season is upon us and I’ll get right to it: health professionals around the country, including the California Department of Public Health, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and Beach Cities Health District, are calling on people to get vaccinated against this contagious respiratory illness that affects thousands of people annually.
Getting a flu shot in a normal year is important. But 2020 is no normal year with the COVID-19 pandemic taking the lives of more than 205,000 Americans. California’s Department of Public Health is urging all Californians aged six months and older to get vaccinated against the flu “in an effort to prevent a ‘twindemic’ of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza.”
"This fall and winter we will probably see both flu and COVID-19 at the same time," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Public Health Director, adding that such a circumstance could make it "more difficult for everyone to access needed care."
Both influenza and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Because many of the symptoms of the two diseases are similar, testing may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention details the differences between the two illnesses here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm
Even though flu and COVID-19 share many of the same traits and symptoms like fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, body aches and more, there is one important difference.
While there is not yet a vaccine for COVID-19, we do have a flu vaccine that is safe and can protect you from the harmful effects of the flu. In the event you contract influenza, it is imminently treatable thanks to antiviral prescription medicines used to treat illness from the flu. (Note: antiviral drugs are not antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to combat bacterial infections).
In the end, a flu vaccine is the best way to help prevent seasonal flu.
Why get the flu vaccine?
- It’s the best way to prevent the flu.
- It’s safe.
- It protects you against the harmful effects of flu. Every year, tens of thousands of people nationwide are hospitalized or die from flu-related illness.
- You can protect others who are too young or unable to get vaccinated.
- It can help keep people out of the hospital which will prevent overwhelming the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Why should people get vaccinated against flu?
Influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to help protect against flu. Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children.
We’re in a pandemic - Does getting a flu vaccine increase your risk of getting COVID-19?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that getting a flu vaccine increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19.
You may have heard about a study published in January 2020 that reported an association between flu vaccination and risk of four commonly circulating seasonal coronaviruses, but not the one that causes COVID-19. This report was later found to be incorrect.
The results from that initial study led researchers in Canada to look at their data to see if they could find similar results in their population. The results from Canada’s study showed that flu vaccination did not increase risk for these seasonal coronaviruses. The Canadian findings highlighted the protective benefits of flu vaccination.
The Canadian researchers also identified a flaw in the methods of the first study, noting that it violated the part of study design that compares vaccination rates among patients with and without flu (test negative design). This flaw led to the incorrect association between flu vaccination and seasonal coronavirus risk. When these researchers reexamined data from the first study using correct methods, they found that flu vaccination did not increase risk for infection with other respiratory viruses, including seasonal coronaviruses.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Beach Cities Health District advises residents to follow flu vaccination guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions.
People in high-risk populations should get a flu vaccine every year. High-risk populations include:
- Children younger than two years old
- Pregnant women
- Persons 65 years of age and older
- People with chronic medical conditions (e.g. asthma, lung disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes)
Where do I get a flu vaccine?
- Your healthcare provider
- Local providers and retailers, including pharmacies
- Visit a Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Clinic
- View a list of flu vaccine locations in the Beach Cities here: https://bchd.org/fluvaccine
Los Angeles County health officials, who again issued a call for people get a flu shot and continue taking precautions against the spread of infection.
Health officials issued another call for residents to be immunized against the flu, noting that thousands of people nationally are hospitalized every year due to influenza, and with the coronavirus pandemic continuing, hospitals could easily become overwhelmed.
Public health director Barbara Ferrer urged residents to continue taking all basic precautions to avoid becoming ill.
“As many residents are spending more time indoors to avoid the poor air quality, I remind everyone to take precautions to minimize COVID-19 spread if you are indoors with others,” she said in a statement. “Please remember to distance from other people, wear a face covering and wash your hands frequently and to clean high-touch surfaces often if around others who are at high risk. It is important to continue to isolate from others if you are sick and to get tested for COVID-19 if you were exposed or have symptoms.”
Ferrer said Wednesday that downward trends in the county’s coronavirus case and testing-positivity rates could allow the county to move into the next tier of the state’s economic-reopening matrix by sometime in October.
“The autumn and winter months are filled with special times that we all are looking forward to,” Ferrer said. “There’s many secular and religious holidays that we usually celebrate by spending time with our friends and extended family members. And the pandemic has been difficult and frustrating in many ways, including placing limits on how we can celebrate safely. I do encourage all of us to think now about how we might want to modify our plans so we can share the joy of the holidays while reducing the risk of transmitting a dangerous and sometimes deadly virus.”
Info from CDC:
You need to get a flu vaccine every year. There are two reasons for getting a flu vaccine every year: a) Flu viruses are constantly changing and so flu vaccines may be updated from one season to the next. You need the current season’s vaccine for the best protection. b) A person’s immune protection from the vaccine declines over time. Annual vaccination is needed for the best protection.
Even if I get sick, won’t I recover quickly? Not necessarily. Influenza can be serious and anyone can become sick with flu and experience serious complications, including active and healthy kids, teens and adults. Even if you bounce back quickly, however, others around you might not be so lucky. You could spread your illness to someone who is more vulnerable to flu. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, you can still spread the virus to others. Don’t be the one spreading flu to those you care about.
Can I get seasonal flu even though I got a flu vaccine this year?
Yes. It’s possible to get sick with flu even if you have been vaccinated (although you won’t know for sure unless you get a flu test). This is possible for the following reasons:
- You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in you becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect you. (Antibodies that provide protection develop in the body about 2 weeks after vaccination.)
- You may be exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that circulate every year. A flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that research suggests will be most common.
- Unfortunately, some people can become infected with a flu virus a flu vaccine is designed to protect against, despite getting vaccinated. Protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. In general, a flu vaccine works best among healthy younger adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination. Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.