This article was last updated on Wednesday, September 23, 2020. Please visit our Blue KC COVID-19 website for the latest information.
This year, there are many unknowns around what the coming months will bring. What we do know for sure is that the flu vaccine is critical in 2020.
The Flu Vaccine and COVID-19
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fall and winter will be a very challenging time for public health, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be compounded by the effects of influenza.
Because of measures in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic will impact how and where people can get a flu vaccine. The CDC is working with healthcare providers and state and local health departments to develop contingency plans for how to vaccinate people against the flu without increasing their risk of exposure to respiratory germs, such as the virus that causes COVID-19.
We don’t yet know how the COVID-19 and flu viruses will coexist. Therefore, people should take every possible precaution to prevent both viruses in line with CDC recommendations:
- Wash your hands: Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds to wash your hands. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Wear a face covering: It’s possible to spread COVID-19 and the flu even if you do not have symptoms. A cloth face covering or mask will protect other people in case you are unknowingly infected.
- Social distance: Stay six feet apart from other people, especially those outside of your household, people who are not wearing face coverings, or those who may be at higher risk for contracting the virus.
For the most up-to-date information for how to protect yourself from COVID-19 visit the CDC website.
Benefits of the Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. In turn, these antibodies provide protection against the strains of the virus used to create the vaccine.
Every year, scientists create new a flu vaccine in anticipation of the strains of Influenza virus expected to be most active. Flu vaccines are effective for around 6 months, so it’s important to re-vaccinate every year. Past flu vaccines will not protect against new or existing strains.
A flu vaccine may offer several benefits including keeping you from getting sick with the flu, reducing the severity of your illness if you do get the flu and reducing your risk of a flu-associated hospitalization.
Who Can Get the Vaccine?
The flu vaccination is recommended for almost all individuals 6 months and older. Exceptions include people with severe allergies to any ingredients in the vaccine. If you have questions about whether an exception applies to you, make sure to speak to your healthcare provider before getting the vaccine.
This year, two new vaccine products are available for individuals 65 and over, who are at higher risk for contracting the virus. These products include a high-dose flu vaccine and an adjuvanted flu vaccine, which includes an additive to illicit a stronger immune system response to the vaccine. If you are in this age group, talk with your healthcare provider prior to your vaccination with one of these products to ensure it’s right for you.
Why Should I Get the Flu Vaccine?
Given the complex nature of the health information we’ve received constantly amid the pandemic, it’s understandable to be hesitant about the vaccine and feel overloaded by health updates. However, it’s still vital to get the flu vaccine, and it is possible to do so safely, so long as you comply with the CDC’s guidelines.
Public health experts have expressed concern that because Americans will generally avoid medical facilities, pharmacies, and grocery stores offering flu vaccines this year, we will see a low flu vaccination rate. Individuals at high risk may also be adopting the most stringent social distancing practices and may therefore be particularly concerned about venturing out to get the flu vaccination.
My advice is simple: if you can get the flu vaccine, you should.
Because of the circumstances the pandemic has brought forth, it’s important to plan ahead for when to get your vaccine. Getting the flu vaccine in August is considered too early, while timing the vaccination in September and October is ideal. The CDC has not changed this recommendation in response to the pandemic, and manufacturers have boosted vaccine production for this flu season in anticipation of increased need.
Keep in mind that some settings that usually provide flu vaccines, such as workplaces or places of worship, may not offer vaccinations this upcoming season. Primary care doctors, pediatrician practices, clinics, pharmacies, and your local health department all offer flu shots. Consider identifying a clinic or making an appointment with your primary care provider now to ensure you can get the vaccine sooner rather than later, in line with CDC recommendations. When scheduling or confirming an appointment, make sure there are no restrictions and the vaccine is available.
How Blue KC Can Help
Flu vaccines are considered preventive services, meaning the full cost of your vaccine will be covered under your Blue KC health insurance plan. Review the full list of preventive services covered under in-network care on our website.
*Data provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)