Worry About Covid-19, but Don’t Forget to Get a Flu Shot

Since March, many of us have been consumed, rightfully so, by the Covid-19 pandemic. Months later, the virus continues to dictate our lives.

But, as summer moves into fall, should we also start worrying about the flu?

Dr. Daren Wu, Chief Medical Officer, Open Door Family Medical Center

According to Dr. Daren Wu, Chief Medical Officer at Open Door Family Medical Center, protection against the flu has never been more important than now.

“We strongly encourage patients to get the flu shot and, once a vaccine is available, a vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 as well,” said Dr. Wu. “These viruses are two completely different species, so getting vaccinated for one will not protect you against the other. What you definitely do not want is the 1 – 2 punch of getting both viruses, which is entirely possible.  Each virus can be deadly, and in tandem they can be that much worse. When your immune system is down because of the flu, other infections – including coronavirus – can kick in.”

Flu vaccinations will be available across Open Door’s six health centers in Westchester and Putnam Counties and eight School-Based Health Centers in the Ossining and Port Chester School Districts, beginning in September. Most patients, he said, usually need little convincing to get an annual flu shot, and it is available to all patients over six months old. However, he added, there is still a great deal of misinformation about the flu and he encourages “anti-vax” community members to learn more and get the flu shot.

This is particularly important among those most at risk: the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those with certain health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious flu complications.

“Our minds are on Covid-19, but getting the flu will lower your immune system and can make you more susceptible to all sorts of secondary infections, including bacterial infections and other viruses such as Covid-19,” said Dr. Wu. “The flu shot is not perfect, but we keep framing the message that it is overwhelmingly safe and can give you significant protection.”

Flu activity begins to increase in October and November and can last until May. It typically peaks in January or February.

“The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older,” said Dr. Wu.  “Young children up through the age of eight years old, who are getting vaccinated for the first time, require two doses of flu vaccine, spaced at least 28 days apart. Because children under the age of six months are too young to receive the vaccine, it is especially important that their parents and older siblings get vaccinated to prevent the spread of the flu to infants who are particularly vulnerable to serious complications.”

The effectiveness of the annual flu vaccine depends in part on the match between the viruses used to produce a vaccine and the strains of flu that will circulate in the new flu season. While the vaccine is produced to protect against the flu viruses that research and surveillance indicate are most likely to be common this season, there is no way to predict with certainty.

“Flu viruses not only change from season to season, but can even change within the course of a single season,” said Dr. Wu. “Still, antibodies made in response to a vaccination with one flu virus can sometimes provide protection against different flu strains. That’s why, even if the vaccine is a less than a perfect match, it is still far more effective in preventing the flu than getting no shot at all.”

This year, he added, it’s even more important for people to comply.

 EIGHT GOOD REASONS TO GET A FLU SHOT

Here, according to Dr. Wu, are eight good reasons to get a flu shot:

  1. Getting the flu can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to secondary infections. This takes on especial importance this year, at least until there is a vaccine for Covid-19, which is a more lethal virus.
  2. The flu can affect anyone. The flu is a serious virus and spreads easily. Vaccination protects you, your family and friends.
  3. The flu shot is safe. Flu vaccines CANNOT cause the flu – they are made with either killed or weakened viruses. One of the biggest myths out there is that flu shots can cause the flu and that simply is not true.  Serious reactions are extremely rare. Mild reactions include soreness, redness or swelling where the vaccine was given.
  4. The flu shot you received last year is no longer effective. The influenza virus changes and mutates fairly rapidly. New flu vaccinations are developed each year to ensure evolving viruses are adequately targeted and protected against.
  5. You want to protect your kids. Young children under the age of five are more susceptible to serious complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, secondary infections from bacteria and other viruses, and dehydration. Both children (over six months old) and parents need the shot.
  6. You are pregnant or considering getting pregnant. Pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu. The flu shot is safe during pregnancy.
  7. You or someone you know is over 65 and/or has a long-term illness. As human immune defenses become weaker with age, a vaccination is designed specifically for people 65 years and older. Additionally, a number of long-term, chronic health conditions such as diabetes or cancer, are associated with an increased risk of flu-related complications (as they are with Covid-19).
  8. Getting vaccinated is part of a healthy lifestyle. The flu can blindside you with its intensity and leave you feeling sick for days. When you get a flu shot, you build up your immunity, making you stronger and more resistant to the flu.

If you would like to make an appointment to get a flu shot, please call Open Door at 914-632-2737 or email hello@odfmc.org.

 

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