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September 22, 2022

4 Reasons to Get Your Flu Shot—And Your COVID Vaccine

4 Reasons to Get Your Flu Shot—And Your COVID Vaccine

After nearly three years of COVID, most people are downright tired of talk about viruses, infections, and vaccines. Masks have come off and people are back to more normal daily routines. But as the days grow shorter and cooler, it’s time to act against a more familiar seasonal threat: influenza.

It’s time to get your flu shot.  

Over the past few years, more than 6.5 million people around the world died from COVID, including more than one million in the United States. Flu, by comparison, may seem like a relatively minor problem. But these seasonal viruses claim thousands of lives every year.

While COVID precautions, such as masks and physical distancing, were enforced, flu activity was reduced. Those preventative measures helped ward off other viruses and germs in addition to COVID. But even last year’s mild flu season, claimed between 5,000 and 14,000 lives and up to 170,000 people were hospitalized.

This year, without those precautions in place, flu season may be more severe. The best way to help keep the virus in check—and protect yourself as well as those around you—is to get vaccinated.

Don’t skip the flu shot this year
Whether you are still unvaccinated against COVID or scheduling an updated booster shot, you should add getting a seasonal flu shot to your to-do list.

Not only are Americans taking fewer infection precautions these days, but also overall flu immunity might be lower than usual since so few people caught the virus over the past two flu seasons compared to pre-pandemic years.

You don’t need to wait. Health officials advise that you can even get a COVID shot on the same day as your flu shot.

Need more convincing? Here’s why you should roll up your sleeve:

Flu and COVID spread in similar ways
COVID is still circulating. Two Omicron subvariants—BA.5 and BA4.6—now account for nearly all new infections in the United States. As of September 14, tens of thousands of cases are reported each day. And some nearly 50 percent of U.S. counties have a medium or high COVID community level.

COVID generally spreads more quickly and easily than the flu but both infections are highly contagious. They also spread from person to person in similar ways. These viruses can be transmitted through direct contact, contaminated droplets or through the air in aerosols—particles even smaller than respiratory droplets that may waft and accumulate.

People may be infectious and not know it
Most people with flu are contagious for about one day before they develop symptoms of the infection. Older kids and adults with the flu are most contagious after three to four days but may still pass the infection to others for about seven days.

Scientists are still working to understand how long someone with COVID-19 remains infectious.

U.S. health officials warn that it’s possible for people to spread the coronavirus from about two days before symptoms appear until about 10 days afterward. Even after symptoms resolve, people may remain contagious for up to 10 days after testing positive. This is also true for those who never developed symptoms of the infection.

Those with very severe infections and those who are immunocompromised may remain infectious for up to 20 days or more.

The flu is also deadly
A person’s chance of dying from the flu or COVID varies, depending on certain risk factors, like their age, health and whether they are vaccinated. Variables among countries, such as population demographics and the quality of health care, also influence estimates on mortality rate.

The COVID landscape continues to evolve, and scientist are still investigating the COVID-19 case fatality ratio—or the portion of U.S. cases that result in death. Estimates suggest it may be more than 10 times deadlier than the flu, according to Johns Hopkins University.

A severe flu season still has a death rate of about 0.1 percent, according to a February 2020 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. That’s many lives affected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 2010 and 2020, the flu has resulted in up to 41 million infections, up to 710,000 hospitalizations and up to 52,000 deaths each year.

In most cases, people with the flu will recover within a couple of weeks. But some people—particularly older people, very young children, and those with underlying health issues—are more likely to develop potentially deadly complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle, sepsis or organ failure.

Safe and effective vaccines are available
While there are differences between the flu and COVID, there is one thing both viruses have in common: they are vaccine-preventable, like polio, smallpox, and measles.

Flu vaccines can be 40 to 60 percent effective at preventing illness and keeping people out of the hospital when circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the vaccines.

It’s true: sometimes people who get the flu shot are still infected with the virus. This can happen due to certain factors, including a person’s unique biological characteristics, the flu viruses in circulation (and whether the flu vaccine is a close match to these predominant strains) as well as the type of flu vaccine used.

Studies show, however, that getting the flu vaccine can still help reduce the severity of the infection and help prevent flu-related complications. In short, if you get the shot and still do get the flu, it may not be as bad.

Similarly, the COVID vaccines in use in the United States have been shown to be safe and highly effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

And if that’s not enough motivation to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID, consider this: getting immunized will also protect the more vulnerable people around you, including babies, older people, pregnant women, and those with chronic health conditions.

Other ways to protect yourself
Aside from getting vaccinated, there is a lot you can do to avoid exposure and reduce your risk of infection to both the flu and COVID, including:

  • Wear a face mask in crowded indoor spaces, particularly those with poor ventilation
  • Practice physical distancing or stay at least 6 feet away from others
  • Wash your hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching any part of your face, including your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid contact with people who have suspected or confirmed infections

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