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Christina Ree, PharmD | October 28, 2020
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How to handle flu season in the time of COVID-19

It’s hard to know how to prepare for flu season when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic. We’re already washing our hands, wearing masks, social distancing. What else should we be doing? Do we need to put protective measures on top of our protective measures?

Well, the good news is that the precautions we’re already taking will help slow the transmission of other viruses during this year’s flu season. However, there is more that can be done. Here’s how you can boost your flu IQ and prep for the season ahead.

I’m already social distancing and washing my hands, can I even get the flu?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one of the most important things you can do is work to stop the spread of germs. So keep washing those hands, limit contact with people who are sick, stay home when you don’t feel well, and cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Christina Ree, pharmacist and programs manager at Bartell Drugs, agrees and says it’s important we stay vigilant. However, we can still get the flu.

“While social distancing and washing hands will decrease your likelihood of contracting and spreading the virus, there is no single action that will prevent it entirely,” she says. “It’s all the numerous safety tactics we practice as a whole that help us and others stay safe and healthy. And even though we all like to think each of us is practicing these safety tactics all the time we are all human and we often forget.”

It’s only natural that we occasionally forget that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and let our guard down. Mistakes will be made. And, unfortunately, we can still get the flu.

Am I more likely to get the flu because of COVID?

Not exactly, but in every flu season there’s a risk. Adding a global pandemic to the mix makes it more stressful.

“Any illness that can weaken your immune system makes you more susceptible to other diseases that may be circulating in the community,” Ree says. “Given that COVID-19 has no vaccine yet or mainstream treatments the right choice is to get your flu shot to prevent this vaccine-preventable disease.”

The CDC points out that the flu shot will not prevent COVID-19, but it will reduce the burden of the flu illness on hospitals and the health care system and to conserve scarce medical resources for the care of people with COVID.

We can do our best to make the flu a nonissue since we can’t do that yet with COVID.

Does getting the flu shot make you more likely to get the flu or COVID?

No, and you can consider this your annual reminder that the virus in the flu vaccine is dead.

“There is no evidence to show that getting a vaccine will make you more likely to contract COVID-19,” Ree says. “If anything you are giving your body an additional tool to stay healthy this season and possibly prevent an illness. The flu shot is made from dead virus thus it cannot replicate in your body and cause the flu. It can, however, elicit an immune response from your body, which may make you feel a bit tired, sore or in a small number of cases, produce a slight fever. But this is not the flu; this is your body doing what it is made to do.”

Lastly, this is more of a statement than a question but a point that needs to be made nonetheless. If you don’t want to get the flu shot for yourself, get it for everyone else.

“COVID isn’t going anywhere,” Ree says. “It’s a harsh reality we all need to understand, and we have a shared responsibility to fight this pandemic however we can. That means we stay home when we’re not feeling well, wear face masks, practice social distancing, avoid large crowds, and stay up to date on our vaccinations.”

The CDC estimates that last season, fewer than half of Americans got the flu vaccine and at least 410,000 people were hospitalized for the flu. If more people are vaccinated, it will reduce the burden.

“It’s not only about protecting yourself,” Ree says. “It’s about protecting those who are more vulnerable or who can’t get the vaccine. It important everyone in the community work together to keep our environment healthy and safe.”