Author: Anuhya Banerjee
As we delve into the fall and winter seasons, there might just be another bug to worry about now.
The common flu has always been a seasonal visitor for hundreds of years, even causing the 1918 pandemic. Scientists worry about the many possible outcomes that could come this year with COVID-19 implications. One recommendation is undoubtedly key to the following months: get your flu vaccines as soon as possible this season.
Why should I get the flu shot this year?
Charles Chiu (M.D. - Ph.D.) at UCSF states “Even with a mild flu season, the convergence with a COVID surge could very rapidly overwhelm our hospital system.” With some cities already having a limited number of hospital beds available, there’s a concern for ICU’s packed to capacity during the peak of the flu virus. This can be prevented with the known safe and effective vaccine for influenza. Conserving healthcare resources is the key to battling the rough road ahead, and it starts with protecting yourself, households, and nearby communities.
If last year’s vaccine was only 47% effective at preventing flu infection, how will this year’s vaccine hold?
So far this year, the vaccines have matched the strain of influenza spreading around. Even if different strains of the flu come up later, most flu vaccines are quadrivalent: protecting against 2 strains of both Influenza A and B. Despite not having complete certainty with the possibly mutating virus, there are still benefits for vaccination. Dr. Fauci, one of the nation's top epidemiologist, encourages everyone to still get the virus for potential benefits being “reduced severity and duration of illness" (Healthline).
With last year’s vaccine, the CDC did estimate for the vaccine to be between 40-60% effective.This effectiveness does vary upon age, with studies stating that for children 17 and under, the vaccine’s overall effectiveness against flu was 61% in 2019-2020. From last year’s flu season, 80% of children who died of the flu were unvaccinated.
Southern Hemisphere vs. Northern Hemisphere
Often the Northern Hemisphere of the world, including North America, looks towards the Southern Hemisphere for indications to how the flu season will play out. In the southern hemisphere, countries such as Chile, South Africa, and Australia are observed by the CDC for peak rates of flu activity generally between June and August. As their infectious rates come to a slow during this time of year, there proves to be some good news in the efforts with influenza: they virtually skipped flu season. This record low flu transmission was greatly credited to COVID mitigation measures, like washing hands, wearing masks, and socially distancing, all of which continue to be stressed globally.
Can you get flu and COVID at the same time?
Many top health officials and the CDC state that it’s important to be cautious of your health, because yes, you can have flu and coronavirus at the same time. And it certainly will not be fun to have both.
Right now, it’s difficult to gauge just how common co-infections will become. What we do know for certain is that lungs are especially targeted with both COVID and influenza. Epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford at UCSF stated “...to the extent that the lungs are damaged by one disease and the other one comes along and damages it more, you can get into trouble faster.” In addition, influenza can make you susceptible to many other infections. Dr. Rutherford goes on to say, “In fact, a lot of the deaths of the 1918 flu pandemic were probably from staphylococcal pneumonia as a superinfection on top of influenza pneumonia.”
Vaccinations and Testing
In the 2019-2020 flu season, a record was set with 175 million doses of vaccines manufactured. This year, according to the CDC, they project up to 198 million doses made, stressing that it’s more important than ever to get this vaccine to prevent burden on the healthcare system. Despite the delays that the past few months have seen due to coronavirus, manufacturers for the flu vaccine have expressed that currently they do not report significant delays and affirm vaccine distribution will continue longer than usual due to the high volume made.
With high levels of flu and coronavirus testing required, the CDC has developed a test made for both viruses. Symptoms can be similar among SARS-CoV-2 and influenza virus infections, however by getting the flu vaccine you can prevent and protect yourself from the spread of another virus.