Armed with Band-Aids, alcohol wipes and stocks of influenza vaccine, local health experts have some strong advice for citizens: come get your flu shot before November.
Encouraging flu shots and making vaccines readily available is part of an all-out effort to reduce influenza and its interference in the ongoing fight against coronavirus.
“The COVID-19 pandemic makes getting a flu shot more important than ever,” said Kanabec County Community Health Director Kathy Burski.
“Getting a flu shot every year reduces your risk of getting the flu but also protects others in the community from getting it as well. With the current spread of COVID-19, keeping ourselves and our community protected is more important than ever.”
Dangers of a Twindemic
Seasonal influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms like cough, body aches, fever and chills. Experts have called the potential scenario of these two diseases overlapping a “twindemic.”
Flu season typically begins in September or October and extends into spring. Welia Health has not seen any cases in the emergency department as of yet, however, Infection Control expert, Cindy Teichroew speculates they will see its first flu case at time now.
Teichroew explained the overlap of these diseases poses several concerns for healthcare providers.
One, it is unknown how the two diseases how will interact with each other, however having flu may make people more susceptible to the effects of the COVID-19 illness.
Another concern is the symptoms of flu will likely spur an increase in COVID-19 testing in an already overwhelmed system. As the demand for COVID-19 tests increase, labs may become overwhelmed and test results delayed.
Teichrow said delays in results mean delayed diagnoses and thus delays in determining the proper treatment.
Flu shots for all
Even though the flu vaccine has been used to prevent disease since the late 1930’s, Burski said there are still a number of misunderstandings about how the vaccine works.
“The biggest misunderstanding of the flu shots that I have heard is that ‘the flu shot gave me the flu,’” she said. “Flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle are made with either inactivated (killed) viruses or with only a single protein from the flu virus. The nasal spray vaccine contains live viruses that are weakened so that they will not cause illness.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine, with very few exceptions.
Vaccination is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza. This demographic includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease), pregnant women and children younger than 5 years of age.
Burski’s best advice: “Make plans to get vaccinated early.”
It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop and provide protection after receiving the flu vaccine. While vaccinations will be available throughout the winter, it is recommended that vaccination is done by the end of October.
Welia Health’s Director of Pharmacy Brent Thompson was confident that the supply for the vaccine would be continually available to order to meet the community demand.
Coborn’s Pharmacist Katie Hook said their goal is to administer about 700 vaccines this season —slightly more than previous years.