The Flu Shot and Coronavirus

Should I get the flu shot this year? Will it help against coronavirus?

It is well documented now that there is a surge of COVID-19 across dozens of states while at the same time the incidence is decreasing in others.

However as we approach flu season when it is normally recommended to get the flu shot – it is highly likely than individuals who succumb to both viruses will suffer more severe illness and a higher number of deaths – particularly in those most susceptible to either.

Due to seasonality, a return to school and indoor activities the spread of flu will occur as it does every year this fall. We know that the flu vaccine works better some years than others and we know that it decreases sickness, hospitalisations severity and death. This year however the risks are higher as folks infected by both COVID-19 and the flu are highly likely to experience greater negative impacts.

While we know that in a typical year less than 50% of adults receive the flu vaccine vs a recommended 70% as set by the Department of Health and Human Services for 2020. Additionally we know that annually typically hundreds of thousands are hospitalised and tens of thousands die – the two together however could bring significantly more disastrous results. Given that flu shots are lower historically in black and Hispanic populations in the US – and that they have had a higher rate of coronavirus infection, sickness and death than the rest of the population – this can further exacerbate the demographic differences we will see.

In addition to masks, handwashing and social distancing reducing the spread of coronavirus fortunately these same factors reduce the spread of flu infections also. This can be further enhanced by a broader vaccination of the US population particularly susceptible sub-groups such as minorities and the elderly as well as health care workers who have a much higher chance of exposure to both viruses.

Does the flu vaccine work?

Yes. It works but not 100%. That is to say that the flu vaccine is imperfect and does not cover all strains of flu (which vary annually) it has a massive impact on reducing not only the severity of flu infections but also hospitalizations and death. Furthermore side-effects are generally mild with a fleeting headache and soreness around the injection site being relatively minor and infrequent side effects. Also as the vaccine is not a live virus – it cannot cause influenza itself though people may feel some mild flu symptoms due to the body’s response to the shot.

It is strongly recommended that vaccines should be especially considered in high risk environments such as classrooms and at work for those working in dense, high-contact environments in addition to those who normally are at high risk of sickness and death from the flu.

Who pays for the flu shot?

Federal law requires health insurers to pick up the cost of annual flu vaccination, as Medicare does. Medicaid vaccine coverage varies by state. Given the massive numbers of unemployed who have lost insurance – it is therefore more important than ever this year that states and the federal government to work together to make shots free or at least very inexpensive for the uninsured.

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