In the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, getting a flu shot has never been more important.
Many people are staying indoors, wearing a mask, and washing their hands frequently. In this environment, patients ask me, “With all this social distancing, do I really need a flu shot this year?” The answer is unequivocally, “Yes!” Even the safest practices do not guarantee that a person won’t catch the flu or the coronavirus. For people who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill from either the flu or from COVID-19, it is critical that they get their flu shots before the start of the flu season in the fall.
A bad flu season could combine with the coronavirus pandemic in the fall and winter. And because both illnesses present with the same symptoms, it is possible that physicians will have to test sick patients for both.
These are two different diseases, which set up the alarming possibility that a person could become ill with both at the same time. We don’t have a vaccine yet for COVID-19, but we do have a vaccine for the flu. It is more important this year than ever to get vaccinated.
To ensure that everyone over the age of 6 months has access to the influenza vaccine, Hoag this year doubled its order of vaccinations.
We are reaching out to our partners in the community, businesses, houses of worship, asking everyone to help increase vaccination rates in the county. We are asking everyone to do whatever they can to reduce their risk of influenza – and the best way is the vaccine.
Depending on the severity of the flu season, influenza kills between 12,000 to 61,000 people a year. While vaccines aren’t 100% effective, they greatly reduce a person’s risk of getting sick and lower the severity of the illness if someone does become sick.
Some patients have said they are hesitant to come in for a vaccine because they are concerned about exposing themselves to COVID-19. Our hospital, clinics, and physician offices are safe, and we are following the most stringent guidelines to safeguard the vaccination process.
In addition to visual social distancing markers, mask-wearing, and increased cleaning, Hoag conducts temperature checks and symptom screenings for every person entering a Hoag facility. And many physician offices have done away with waiting rooms, allowing patients to stay in their cars and await a text message that alerts them when they can come in to see their doctor.
Flu season is always a serious matter. There is a lot of concern in the community about how the pandemic could affect the flu and vice-versa. The best thing we can do as a community is to lessen the burden and impact of the flu. And the best way to do that is to get your flu shot.
Philip Robinson is an infectious disease physician and medical director, infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, CA.
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