The arrival of this flu season coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, raising concerns of a collision of two public health challenges. Since symptoms of the flu can be similar to symptoms of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated against the flu, said Dr. Andrea Gelzer, senior vice president of medical affairs for AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in Medicaid managed care and other healthcare solutions for those most in need.
An important component of achieving widespread immunization is addressing misconceptions, along with the general distrust of the medical system by people who already traditionally experience health disparities. For example, a study conducted by HMS found that 52 percent of Spanish-speaking respondents said they didn’t plan to get the flu shot because they didn’t think it was effective, 62 percent were concerned about the vaccine’s safety, and 50 percent believed it would cause them to get the flu when they otherwise wouldn’t.
“It is extremely important to stay on top of flu shots and any other preventive care, even during the pandemic,” said Gelzer. “Doctors’ offices and other providers of flu shots are taking steps to protect you and their staff from COVID-19.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last winter’s flu season resulted in approximately 22 million visits to a doctor or other health care provider, 575,000 hospitalizations, and more than 40,000 deaths. Research has shown that the flu vaccine, in addition to reducing the likelihood of one getting the flu entirely, also reduces its severity.
The benefits of vaccination will be especially apparent this flu season. There is concern about the convergence of flu season and COVID-19 and the potential strain placed on doctor offices and hospitals. Many states are seeing new COVID-19 cases and percent positivity rates (the percentage of COVID-19 tests producing a positive result) increase in recent weeks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the weather gets colder, people will spend more time indoors, where viruses such as the flu and COVID-19 can spread more easily.
“Getting a flu shot is a safe and effective way to protect you and your family this flu season. The flu shot can prevent you from getting sick with the flu or having a severe case of the flu, and it can prevent you from going to the doctor or being hospitalized for flu-related illness,” said Gelzer.