This year's flu season is unlike any other, because it is expected to coincide with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Flu season, which typically begins in the U.S. in October and peaks in February, sickens millions of people every year, sending hundreds of thousands to the hospital.
Taking measures to protect yourself and your family from the flu will be more important than ever for the 2020-2021 flu season. Here's what parents should know.
How might the flu season starting in fall 2020 be different than in previous years?
Each flu season is unpredictable, but what we do know is that getting the flu shot remains the best protection against influenza and is something everyone can do to help keep themselves and their loved ones healthy. Getting your flu shot is even more important amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to help maintain respiratory health, prevent community spread of viruses, and reduce the burden on the healthcare system.
The good news is that many of the same protective health practices that have become second nature to so many of us during the pandemic are also helpful in preventing the spread of the flu. Other than getting a flu shot, families can stay healthy by washing hands frequently, avoiding close contact with those who are sick, avoiding touching your eyes, mouth and nose, and staying in good overall health by getting plenty of sleep, eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly.
The experience of getting the flu shot may be a bit different this year, too. Your pediatrician's office will be taking measures to keep patients safe during in-office visits, and if you get your flu shot at a clinic or drugstore, you'll also notice different protocols in place. You will be asked to wear a face covering, and you may also be screened for the presence of symptoms or illness, including getting your temperature checked before getting the vaccine. Staff and care providers will wear face masks and face shields while administering vaccinations for additional protection.
Should kids get the flu shot this year?
The CDC urges everyone 6 months and older to get a flu shot every year, and this year is no different. At Walgreens, where I serve as Chief Medical Officer, we recently lowered our pediatric flu shot age requirement to age 4 in eligible states so that our pharmacists can vaccinate even more children for influenza, as children are particularly vulnerable to serious flu complications.
As parents navigate the uncertainties of going back to daycare or school, flu immunizations are more critical than ever to ensure the health of their families and community.
Should pregnant women get the flu shot this year?
The CDC recommends receiving a flu shot during pregnancy. In fact, it is recommended that all women who are pregnant or may become pregnant during the flu season receive a flu shot at any trimester. Pregnant women are at greater risk of complications from the flu, and the flu shot has been proven safe during pregnancy. Plus, a flu shot protects both mother and baby from getting the flu, since the mother can pass some of the antibodies on to the baby.
We encourage getting a flu shot as soon as it becomes available in your community and if you develop flu symptoms during pregnancy, see your healthcare provider right away.
When is the best time to get the flu shot?
We recommend getting your flu shot as soon as it is available to avoid missing an opportunity to get vaccinated. You can contact your local pharmacist or healthcare provider to determine what's right for you.
It takes about two weeks to develop the antibodies to fight the flu after getting your flu shot, so it's important to get it before the flu spreads to best protect yourself, your loved ones and your community. With this flu season coinciding with COVID-19, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated to protect from vaccine-preventable illnesses.
Can getting a flu shot impact your immune response or make you more susceptible to COVID-19?
No. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that getting the flu shot increases the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. What we do know is that while we don't yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, flu shots are available to help prevent influenza. Both COVID-19 and flu are contagious respiratory illnesses which can result in serious complications such as pneumonia, more severe infections and worsening of current conditions. Getting your flu shot may also reduce the severity of symptoms if you do get it, and help reduce the risk that you'll be hospitalized—which is particularly important this season as hospitals may be overburdened during the pandemic.
If despite your best efforts to prevent getting sick, someone in your family does come down with the flu, don't panic. Follow treatment advice for the flu from your doctor or pediatrician, and be aware of the differences in symptoms between the flu and COVID-19.
As always, your best first step is to be in touch with your health care provider about any questions or concerns. Be well.