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Individuals Encouraged to Get Flu Shots Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Published on 02 October 2020

As the nation braces for the start of flu season amid the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis is encouraging area residents to get their flu shots as soon as possible to help prevent the spread of the flu as the region heads into what could be a dangerous fall and winter with the flu and COVID-19 circulating simultaneously.

“Our worst case scenario would be to have a severe flu season and a big spike in COVID-19 cases at the same time,” said Michelle Jeon, Pharm.D., BCACP, assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University. “Getting a flu shot is an important way for individuals to do their part to help reduce community spread of the flu and ensure that our worst case scenario doesn’t happen.”

According to the Centers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza activity often begins to increase in October, and the season typically lasts through April.

CDC recommendations suggest that everyone over six months of age should get a flu vaccine annually to decrease flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths. With the COVID-19 pandemic underway, the CDC is further stressing the importance of flu shots to protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe illness and help lessen the burden on the health care system.

“Influenza is a serious disease that can affect all of us, and this year, as we continue to weather the pandemic, it will be critical for individuals to get a flu shot – and get it early – to make sure they are protected,” Jeon said. “As in previous years, the shot is especially important for those with a high-risk for developing flu-related complications. These groups include children younger than five, adults aged 50 or older, pregnant women, and those with medical conditions such as asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes or other chronic conditions. This year, the list of high-risk groups also includes essential workers, including health care personnel, and those at increased risk from severe illness from COVID-19, including nursing home and long-term care facility residents.”

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness characterized by a variety of symptoms including fever, cough, body aches, headaches and fatigue. With the flu and COVID-19 having many of the same symptoms, Jeon says it may be tough for patients to decipher what type of illness they are experiencing.

“This flu season, individuals should be as cautious as possible,” Jeon noted. “If they feel like they are coming down with an illness, they should avoid public areas and call their doctor immediately so they can get evaluated and tested as appropriate.”

With the flu shot taking about two weeks to become effective, Jeon suggests individuals get their shots before the end of October so their bodies can build up immunity before the flu season ramps up. Flu shots are currently available at area doctors’ offices, medical clinics and pharmacies, and many commercial insurance plans and Medicare/Medicaid plans fully cover the cost of an annual flu shot at no out-of-pocket cost to patients.

As individuals make plans to get their flu shots, Jeon says health care providers are taking ample steps to ensure patients can get their vaccines safely amid COVID-19.

“At the Walgreens location where I practice, all pharmacy staff members are required to wear masks and those providing immunizations are being provided with masks and face shields to protect patients and staff,” Jeon said. “In addition, masks are mandated for customers at our location and we are working to adhere to required social distancing recommendations. In these uncertain times, we want the public to know that is that it is safe to get a flu shot, and we can’t stress enough how important it will be for area residents to get immunized this flu season.”

For more information on influenza and the flu shot, visit cdc.gov/flu.

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