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Vaccines for COVID-19 have (rightly) gotten a lot of attention this year. But you shouldn’t overlook the importance of getting a flu shot. Flu season runs from now until May.
The precautions many of us are taking to lessen the chances of getting sick with or spreading COVID — washing our hands more often and wearing a mask — will help reduce the transmission of the flu virus. However, the best way to avoid the flu, which can be deadly for some people, is to get a vaccine.
You can get a shot at many local pharmacies and health clinics. Some health care providers, like Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, even offer drive-through flu shot clinics. An, some offices offer both the flu and COVID vaccines, which are free, at the same visit. Yes, you need both because the viruses are different and so are the inoculations.
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective, so if you haven’t already, book a flu shot now before flu season gets fully underway.
Health care providers warn that the flu season this year could be worse than last year.
“We had almost no cases of influenza last year, but this year could possibly look very different,” Rebekah Gass, the physician lead for infectious disease care at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, told the Bangor Daily News editorial board. “Society is back to business; people are traveling, many have returned to the office, schools are open, and mask mandates have been lifted. Also, there is likely less immunity to flu in the population because of the low rates of exposure and infection last year.”
“Additionally, we have already seen increases in another respiratory virus, RSV, lately,” Gass added. “Based on all of these factors, there is the potential for a severe influenza season this year.”
Our health care system is already strained, with a high number of COVID patients requiring long hospital stays and intensive treatment. For most people, the flu is a mild illness, but, in a typical year, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized with the flu. During the 2019-2020 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 62,000 Americans died from the flu.
Just as with COVID, the best way to avoid the flu and its worst consequences is to get vaccinated.
“The best way to protect yourself and those around you is to get your flu shot and, if you qualify, your COVID-19 vaccine as well. It is safe to get both at the same time,” said Gass, who is also the co-director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at EMMC.“And, as always, washing our hands frequently and staying home when ill are also critical measures to fight both COVID-19 and influenza.”