Official News Magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association

 

COVID-19, the flu & you

by Alexis Campbell

 

Why COVID-19 makes your flu shot more important than ever

After a spring and summer turned upside down by COVID-19, the last thing anyone wants to think about is another respiratory infection. But fall is coming and, with it, the inevitable return of influenza. By October or November, most of us will know at least one person who has suffered through the fever, chills, headache and muscle pain we associate with the flu. Along with that comes the question: should you bother getting a flu shot this year?

Staying safe when you go out to get vaccinatedMany people are staying home as much as possible to reduce their risk of developing COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated even if there is a COVID-19 outbreak where you live. Just remember to take the usual preventive steps: wash your hands often, practise social distancing when you can and, when you can’t, wear a mask. 

Does the “new normal” include a flu shot?

Although most people think of influenza as just “the flu” – a few days of misery, like a bad cold – it can cause serious medical issues. In some people, particularly young children, older people (over 65 years of age) and those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, it can be severe and require hospitalization. Sometimes, it can kill. Each year, 500 to 1,500 Canadians die because of influenza.

In spite of this, most people simply don’t get a flu shot for any number of reasons ranging from, “I was too busy” to “it was just too much trouble.” Although the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that everyone over the age of six months be immunized, fewer than half of Canadians (just 42%) were vaccinated in 2018-19.

A year ago, most people wouldn’t have imagined that they’d be dodging other people on the sidewalk to try and stay six feet apart, or wearing masks to go grocery shopping. Still, many of us have done all of that and more to slow the spread of COVID-19. Should we all be getting vaccinated for the flu, too?

According to the experts, the answer is a resounding yes.

Did you know?It’s possible to be infected with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Do yourself a favour and get vaccinated – at least you can lower your flu risk! 

Reasons to get immunized

Getting vaccinated for the flu won’t protect against COVID-19. However, there are still some important reasons to get your flu shot this fall:

  • It will lower your risk of respiratory infection. Although vaccination won’t protect you against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), it will lower your risk of flu, which is another potentially serious respiratory infection.
  • It may help decrease the risk of developing other infections. If you do get the flu, you may become more susceptible to other infections. By reducing your risk of flu, vaccination may also mean that you are less vulnerable to those infections.
  • It reduces the risk of severe illness. If you do get the flu, your risk of developing a serious case of influenza is lower than it would be without the vaccine.
  • It could keep you out of the hospital. Influenza vaccines have lowered the risk of hospitalizations resulting from the flu by about 40% on average.
  • It may reduce the length of your hospital stay. In one study, vaccinated influenza patients spent four fewer days in the intensive care unit (ICU) than those who weren’t vaccinated.
  • It could keep you out of the ICU. In one study, vaccination reduced adults’ risk of being admitted to the ICU by an impressive 82%.
  • It protects other people. Every person who gets vaccinated lowers the risk of flu for themselves and for everyone around them. This includes people who are more vulnerable to serious flu infections, including babies and young children, older people, and people with some chronic health conditions.
  • It won’t increase your COVID-19 risk. Although the SARS-CoV-2 virus is new, coronaviruses are not. A recent Canadian study showed that immunization against influenza had no effect on the risk of respiratory infection caused by a coronavirus.

Flattening the curve

The phrase that was everywhere this spring – “flatten the curve” – is shorthand for keeping the health-care system from being overwhelmed with cases of COVID-19. This fall, we may have to flatten two curves: one for COVID-19, and another for influenza. Get vaccinated to help flatten the flu curve and keep doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals from being swamped with what is a largely preventable disease.

Heart disease? COPD? Diabetes? Read this!If you have a chronic medical condition, vaccination is especially important. Getting your flu shot reduces the risk of cardiac events in patients with heart disease, decreases the chances of hospitalization for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and reduces hospitalizations for people with diabetes and chronic lung disease. 

 

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