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September 13, 2021

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

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

Nearly two years into the pandemic, the world is weary and still wondering how and when it will end. And now as the days grow shorter and cooler, the U.S. must guard against another more familiar viral threat: influenza.

As of September 12, more than 40.8 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and the disease has claimed more than 656,000 lives. Flu, by comparison, may seem like a relatively minor problem. 

But flu claims thousands of lives every year. And right now, while hospital beds are harder to come by, health care resources are stretched thin and community spread of COVID-19 is high in 93.8 percent of U.S. counties, it’s important to keep the flu in check. The best way to do that is to get vaccinated.

Whether you are still unvaccinated against COVID-19 or anticipating a booster shot in the coming weeks, you should add getting a seasonal flu shot to your to-do list. 

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-19 are highly contagious
The common cold, the flu and COVID-19 can all spread from person to person through direct contact or droplet transmission.

Contact transmission includes direct exposure to someone who is sick. This includes shaking hands, hugging or kissing. It can also occur when people touch a contaminated surface and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes.

Those who are sick can also infect others when contaminated droplets from their coughs or sneezes land in a nearby person’s mouth or nose. Droplets can also travel about six feet before settling on a nearby surface where they can persist for hours or, for some viruses, even days.

About a year ago, in early October 2020, the CDC updated its guidance on how COVID-19 spreads based on emerging research. Health officials warned that under certain conditions (particularly indoors or in areas with poor ventilation), the coronavirus could also spread through the air in contaminated aerosols—particles even smaller than respiratory droplets that may waft and accumulate.

Bottom line: Both flu and COVID-19 are highly transmissible but the coronavirus spreads even more efficiently.

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 10 days afterwards. Even after symptoms resolve, people may remain contagious for up to 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19. This is also true for those who never developed symptoms of the infection.

The flu is also deadly
A person’s chance of dying from the flu or COVID-19 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.

As of September 9, the COVID-19 case fatality ratio—or the portion of U.S. cases that result in death is 1.6 percent, according to Johns Hopkins University. Keep in mind, this is still a matter of investigation.

By comparison, a severe flu season has a death rate of about 0.1 percent, according to a February 2020 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. But that’s still many lives affected. 

In most cases, people with the flu will recover within a couple of weeks. But some people—particularly older people, babies and 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. 

The CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in 9 to 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths each year since 2010.

Safe and effective vaccines are available
While there are differences between these two viral respiratory infections, there is one thing both 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 a number of factors, including a person’s unique biological characteristics, the flu viruses in circulation (and whether or not 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-19 vaccines approved or authorized for use in the United States have been shown to be safe and highly effective. “Breakthrough cases” where vaccinated people become infected are expected but rare.  In fact, recent data indicates there is only one confirmed positive case per 5,000 fully vaccinated people in the U.S. per week.   

The CDC also reports that getting a COVID vaccine reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death among those who do become infected.  

And if that’s not enough motivation to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, 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-19, including:

  • Wearing a face mask or cloth covering when indoors or around other people
  • Practicing social distancing, or staying at least 6 feet away from others
  • Washing your hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time
  • Not touching any part of your face, including your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoiding people with suspected or confirmed infections

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID Data Tracker.” Accessed Sep 12, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Interim Guidance on Ending Isolation and Precautions for Adults with COVID-19.” Mar 16, 2021.
Johns Hopkins. “Coronavirus Resource Center. Mortality Analyses.” Sep 13, 2021. 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Disease Burden of Influenza.” Jun 11, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do Flu Vaccines Work?” Aug 26, 2021.
The White House. “Path Out of the Pandemic: President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan.” Sep 9, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Case Investigation and Reporting.” Sep 10, 2021.
Anthony S. Fauci, MD, H. Clifford Lane, MD, and Robert R. Redfield, MD “Covid-19 — Navigating the Uncharted.” New England Journal of Medicine. Feb 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Flu Symptoms & Complications.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Key Facts About Influenza (Flu).”
World Health Organization. “Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (COVID-19).”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios.” Sept 10, 2020.

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