Commentary By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern
Have you gotten your yearly flu shot? With the flu season approaching, here is everything you need to know about where to get your flu shot, when to get it, and how Americans feel about getting the vaccine this flu season.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic practically shut down society in 2020, it has felt like the flu has nearly disappeared for the last two years. Nevertheless, experts suggest preparing for a strong reemergence of the flu this fall, with an unusually early beginning (NPR).
“With Covid, people have forgotten about influenza. This is another serious winter respiratory virus, it can do bad damage to you,” William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), said at a conference. “The key to prevention is vaccination.”
Advisors are vocalizing their concerns about this flu season. They stress that many individuals, especially young children, have limited immunity against this respiratory infection due to masking, social distancing, and other safety procedures utilized by citizens during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which blunted the flu’s spread in the process.
The flu poses higher chances of severe outcomes in those over the age of 65, pregnant women, children younger than five years old, and individuals with underlying conditions, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It is important for everyone, and specifically those at higher risk, to be prepared for the headstrong illness on the way. The regular flu season starts in November in the U.S. and peaks in January or February. But, scientists and doctors are urging individuals to get their flu shot sooner than later (NPR).
“It’s time to get your flu shot right now,” advises Dr. Schaffner.
Nevertheless, numerous experts also articulate how it is not smart to get your vaccine too early. These individuals assert that waiting longer to get your vaccine may be smarter due to the immunity of the shot waning off as the months go by, potentially leaving you vulnerable for when the infection spreads at full force in the later months.
“I’ll get mine sometime in November,” says John Moore, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Protection by flu vaccines is usually weak and short-lived,” he notes, “so getting vaccinated too early provides too little protection when the virus is actually circulating. And that’s not now. We are not in ‘flu season’ yet.”
However, getting the flu shot at any time is better than no flu shot. According to the CDC, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, flu vaccinations prevented an estimated 7.5 million influenza cases and 3.7 million flu-associated medical visits during the flu season.
Shaun Truelove, an assistant scientist at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, estimates that, in the worst-case scenario, the flu could hospitalize as many as 560,000 people in the U.S. this year and kill as many as 63,000 (NPR).
Despite this data, according to a survey conducted by the NFID, only 49% of American citizens plan to get their flu shot this season. Additionally, 58% of Americans say they will mask up to avoid germs instead of opting for the vaccine (CNBC Make It). Seventy percent of Americans believe that getting an annual flu shot is the best way to prevent influenza-related deaths and hospitalizations(CNBC Make It). Yet, many people remain hesitant to get their vaccine (CNBC Make It).
The leading reasons adults gave for not getting vaccinated include: 41% think the flu shots don’t work, 39% are concerned about the vaccine’s side effects, 28% say they never get the flu, 24% are worried about getting the flu from the shot, and 20% do not think the flu is a severe illness (CNBC Make It).
It is a common trend in our society to put receiving the flu vaccine on the back burner, although individuals only get it once a year. There are many reasons for an altered approach to the vaccine this year. With the timing of the omicron-specific booster and individuals concerned with getting the updated Covid booster and the flu shot, only 32% of U.S. adults are confident that it is safe to receive and have the vaccines in their body at the same time (CNBC Make It).
The CDC has said that receiving both vaccines, even at the same time, is safe. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, says that choosing one vaccine over the other is not a wise decision and that it is useful to increase your body’s defenses against both viruses (CNBC Make It).
The typical symptoms one may have after receiving a Covid and flu shot vaccine simultaneously include soreness at the injection site or in the arm where the shot is administered, fatigue, and headache (CNBC Make It).
“Flu vaccines work. For more than 50 years, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received their vaccines,” said Patricia Stinchfield, president of NFID. “Why take the risk of going unvaccinated?”
So, have you planned when and where to get your influenza vaccine to stay healthy and reduce your risk this flu season? Check out these websites to find flu and COVID vaccine distribution centers near you.
Influenza shot destinations: https://www.nj211.org/get-flu-ready
COVID-19 vaccine destinations: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/How-Do-I-Get-a-COVID-19-Vaccine.html?s_cid=1 0500:available%20vaccine%20for%20covid%2019:sem.ga:p:RG:GM:gen:PTN:FY21
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