Still on the fence about whether to get a flu shot this year? Don't be. Aside from protecting yourself from the painful, icky symptoms of the flu, getting the vaccine could contribute to the greater good by reducing the spread of the virus and helping support healthcare workers during a particularly challenging time.
"Everyone older than 6 months of age should get the flu vaccine this year. This is not only to protect themselves, but to protect their family, friends, and community as well through herd immunity," Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a board-certified family physician and regional director at One Medical, told POPSUGAR. She continued: "The flu vaccine is helpful in both reducing the number of flu cases, as well as reducing the severity of the flu. This means that even if someone gets the flu, they will likely be able to recover at home without the need for any treatment or interventions."
Why is this important? Not only is preventing the severity and spread of the flu good for everyone, but it also helps lower the risk of overwhelming hospitals that may already be struggling to treat patients with COVID-19.
"Flu season overlapping with the COVID-19 pandemic could strain healthcare resources," Dr. Bhuyan said. "Every flu season, we see an increase in primary care visits, ER visits, hospitalizations, and ICU usage. Even a moderate increase in flu cases this year has the potential to overwhelm our healthcare system."
Speaking of COVID-19, Dr. Bhuyan had some words about that as well. "Early research in countries where flu season has already begun shows that people who received a recent flu shot were on average eight percent less likely to need [intensive care] treatment for COVID-19," she said, citing a study of almost 100,000 patients in Brazil.
"Scientists think this may be due to a few things," Dr. Bhuyan explained. "We could be seeing 'bystander immunity,' where our bodies nonspecifically enhance our response to other viruses after getting the flu vaccine. That's because our innate immune cells will defend the body against multiple pathogens, including those not targeted by the flu vaccine itself. And there could also be cross-reactivity in the flu vaccine to the COVID-19 virus."
In other words, it could be that the flu shot generally strengthens the immune system or that there's something in the vaccine that targets COVID-19, specifically. While the jury's still out on that one, it's probably a good idea to schedule a visit to get your shot — assuming you don't have any contraindications or medical exemptions, of course. The earlier, the better!
And if you needed more of a reason to keep up your anti-COVID-19 efforts, remember that they should protect you from the influenza virus as well. "The same things that are effective against COVID-19 (wearing masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene) are effective in reducing the spread of flu," Dr. Bhuyan said.