(BPT) - Flu season occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a multilayered challenge that has health care experts concerned. The viruses that cause the flu weaken the immune system, making people living with chronic conditions more susceptive to severe complications related to flu or the coronavirus disease.
How can you help yourself and others stay healthy? To protect families from the seasonal flu, during the pandemic, the California Immunization Coalition (CIC) and the California Chronic Care Coalition (CCCC) urge people to get their influenza (flu) shot for the 2020-2021 flu season.
"We are facing a dangerous double threat in the coming months," said CIC Executive Director Catherine Flores Martin. "Contracting the flu and getting COVID-19 on top of it can be deadly, so don't wait — vaccinate. Make plans to get a flu shot now to keep you and your family protected from influenza during the pandemic."
Those at most risk for developing complications from the seasonal flu include people living with chronic conditions such as asthma, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, liver and kidney disorders, autoimmune disease, cancer and blood disorders. When vaccinated, the risk of getting sick with the flu and possibly being hospitalized or dying from the flu is reduced. This season, getting a flu vaccine has the added benefit of reducing the overall burden on the health care system and reserving medical resources for the care of COVID-19 patients. In addition, it is important that everyone over the age of 65 receive a flu vaccine because:
- Older adults and people with chronic conditions are more susceptible to influenza and other viruses, 90% of hospitalized adults with COVID-19 complications had at least one high-risk medical condition, and over 60% had 3 more;
- 80% of COVID-related deaths have occurred in people over 65-years-old;
- approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 77% live with at least two;
- between 50% and 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations are for people over the age of 65.
Don't wait, vaccinate now for the best chance at protection
September and October are good times to get vaccinated. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue, even in January or later. The flu season generally peaks between December and February. Unfortunately, less than half of U.S. adults receive a flu vaccine each year. Experts worry fears about being exposed to COVID-19 while visiting flu clinics may keep even more people away from getting this important immunization.
Those that are wary of venturing out to get their flu shots this year should keep in mind most medical offices and clinics are taking precautions to protect patients seeking vaccinations and well-care. These precautions include separate facilities for seeing well-patients, scheduling well visits in the morning and visits for those with symptoms in the afternoon.
If there are concerns, contact a medical provider or a local pharmacy to learn about the safety measures in place to protect patients seeking needed care, like vaccines. In California, many pharmacies are already offering flu shots and they are an excellent option for many families. Visit vaccinefinder.org to find a place nearby to get the flu vaccine.
High importance for people with chronic conditions
"The seasonal flu can be devastating on its own, particularly in those living with chronic conditions," said CCCC President & CEO Liz Helms. "And those with chronic disease are also more vulnerable for complications if they contract COVID-19, making the coming months even more precarious, and even deadly, for so many Californians."
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says flu vaccination can help protect people living with chronic disease avoid worsening illness:
- Flu vaccination is associated with lower rates of cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who have had a cardiac event in the past year.
- Flu vaccination can reduce hospitalization for flu-related chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Flu vaccination is shown in separate studies to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes.
"Preventing cases of the flu through vaccination will not only protect seniors and those living with chronic disease from potentially the deadly impact of flu, but since COVID-19 and flu symptoms are similar every person without flu symptoms will be one less person who will worry they have COVID-19 or which would further strain our already overburdened clinics and hospitals," said Randy Bergen, MD, CIC board president and senior physician at Kaiser Permanente Medical Group in Walnut Creek.