How to Manage Flu Concerns During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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How to Manage Flu Concerns During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Holly Phillips, MD
By Holly Phillips, MD
Sept 20, 2020 - Updated Oct 12, 2020
Woman with a mask on getting her flu shot from her doctor who is also wearing a mask during the coronavirus pandemic

As flu season approaches, it’s tough to predict the impact coronavirus pandemic may have on it. Experts hope that ongoing COVID-19 preventive measures, like mask-wearing and social distancing, might lessen the spread of the flu as well.

However, as schools and workplaces open and indoor dining increases, the potential for the spread of both viruses concurrently, a phenomenon referred to as a “twindemic,” paints a worrisome scenario.

Nonetheless, rather than adding the flu to the seemingly endless list of things to worry about these days, in this case, we can take action.

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illustration of a health care provider administering fu shot to a patient sitting on a stool.

It’s All About The Flu Shot

Even if you don’t usually get the flu shot, this is the year to start. During the peak of flu season every year, hospitals across the nation are overcrowded and resources stretched thin. Adding COVID-19 cases into that setting could easily overwhelm an already stressed healthcare system. That’s why stopping the flu before it starts, through widespread vaccination, is more important this year than ever.

COVID-19 and Influenza share a myriad of symptoms, including fever, chills, sore throat, cough, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue. Distinguishing between the illnesses is virtually impossible without diagnostic testing.

While I encourage patients to get start getting back on track with their routine health appointments, sick visits to doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and the ER should be avoided as much as possible. It’s important to remember telehealth appointments are a great option in speaking with your doctor directly without leaving your home.

The risk of spreading or contracting either virus in a health care setting is always present even when the best precautions are taken, so the less we can expose ourselves and others, the better.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends the flu shot for everyone 6 months and older every year, with very few exceptions. People over 65 years-old should get the high dose version which provides more robust protection for that age group.

When should I get my flu shot?

Now. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Medical Association are encouraging everyone to get their flu shot as soon as possible this year. While some people have expressed concerns about immunity from the vaccine wearing off before the end of flu season (immunity lasts at least 6 months for most people), this year the focus has shifted to stopping the flu before it gets started.

Typical flu season begins in late October, peaks between December and February, and can linger around until April. It takes between 2-3 weeks for your body to fully develop its immune response from the vaccine. So, if you get the shot by early October, you can expect to be protected by the time the season starts.

Will the flu shot work?

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine fluctuates from year to year and depends on a couple of factors. The most important factor is how well the vaccine is matched to the predominant strains of flu circulating in the community. Also, your age and overall health play a role in determining how much protection you’ll get from the shot.

On average, the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of going to the doctor with the flu by 40 to 60%. Perhaps more importantly, even if you get the flu after having the shot, the illness may be shorter, milder and lead to fewer complications. A recent, large-scale study showed the vaccine reduced the risk of being admitted to the ICU with the flu by 82%.

Will the flu shot help to prevent COVID-19?

Not directly. The flu vaccine prevents the flu. Currently, there is no significant data to suggest that it might also prevent COVID-19.

However, if you get the flu, you are more susceptible to other viruses, including coronavirus, during and for some time after you recover. Therefore, by preventing the flu, you’re also keeping your immune system primed and ready to fight off the Coronavirus. Moreover, while we don’t yet have much data yet on the effects of contracting both viruses at once, fighting dual infections seems like a risk no one should take.

Will there be a flu shot shortage?

At the moment, manufacturers project they’ll deliver 198 million shots which is 15% more than the record number produced, and vaccine production and shipping are largely on schedule.

Nonetheless, demand is expected to be considerably higher than usual, so that’s one more reason to err on the side of caution and get it early.

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Where should I get it?

Most large pharmacies and some supermarket chains have the vaccine in stock now. Some facilities offer drive-through service as an extra protective measure. In a change recently instituted in August, the US Department of Health is now allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines to children as young as 3 or 4 to increase preventive health access during these unprecedented times.

Previously, children younger than 7 needed to see their pediatricians for vaccination. Doctor’s offices are, of course, always an option but keeping them uncrowded is also crucial to slowing the spread of illness.

Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurances cover the shot with a co-pay. Prescriptions savings apps, like RxSaver, are a great resource whether or not you have insurance. In addition to saving you up to 85% on your prescription medicines, RxSaver can also help with discounted cash prices for the flu vaccine.

Holly Phillips, MD

Holly Phillips, MD

Dr. Holly Phillips, a Board-Certified General Internist in private practice, is a journalist, author, television contributor, and medical expert for RxSaver. Featured regularly across multiple media outlets, Dr. Phillips first gained nationwide recognition as a Medical Contributor to CBS News and “Core Member” of the Dr. Oz Show. Frequently quoted in print, she has been a contributing editor for Prevention, and appeared in feature articles for Vogue, Self, and others. Dr. Phillips is the author of the book, “The Exhaustion Breakthrough,” published by Rodale. Dr. Phillips obtained her medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and trained at Lenox Hill Hospital. In practice, she addresses all Internal Medicine Conditions with a focus on preventive women’s health. Dr. Phillips is well versed in the foundations of complementary and alternative medicine and views these ideas as integral to the practice of medicine today. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two young daughters and Pug.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.