Beware, flu season is coming.
This year could be particularly sickly: Though doctors don’t yet know how deadly this strain of influenza will be, it will start infecting people at the same time as cases of the coronavirus will likely surge.
If social distancing isn’t followed, this could be “the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had,” said CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield.
Some have dubbed the co-happening of the coronavirus pandemic and flu season a “twin-demic,” and for good reason: from 2018 to 2019, 35.5 million people were infected with the flu, and over 34,000 people died from the virus, according to the CDC.
“We do not want to have an increased number of patients with flu-like or COVID-like symptoms swarming the clinics or the hospitals, [adding to] the capacity of what we have going on right now,” Dr. TingTing Wong, a primary care physician and infectious disease specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Brooklyn, told The Post.
That’s why it’s especially important to get vaccinated now.
Here is everything you need to know about getting the flu shot this year.
When is the best time to get a flu shot and when will they be available?
“We always recommend getting the flu shot early, that’s in September, October. That’s because flu season comes around in October. There’s no exact date, just when it gets cold,” One Medical provider Dr. Michael Richardson, told The Post. “It peaks between December and February and it can honestly last until May, it usually starts to beat out around March.”
“It takes about two weeks for the immunity to kick in,” advised Wong. “So it’s highly recommended to get the flu shot before the season starts.”
Anyone over the age of 6 months should get the shot. For those over 65, a higher-dose vaccination is available to bolster their weaker immune systems.
Should I get a flu shot this year?
Yes. “This year it’s highly important, because of the pandemic,” said Wong.
“We want to prevent at least one deadly virus this year,” said Richardson. “The health care system is already so strained with COVID. Having another epidemic on top of that is not going to help the health care system at all.”
In addition to keeping as many hospital beds open for COVID-19 patients who may need them, getting the flu can actually make you more vulnerable to the coronavirus. “Say you recover from the flu, but a week later you get COVID-19. Your lungs are not fully recovered yet, and it may increase your risk of something much more serious,” he said.
For those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, asthma and COPD, it’s especially important to get the shot.
Where can I get a flu shot?
Flu shots are now widely available. You can get them at most doctor’s offices.
How much do flu shots cost? Can I get one for free?
For those with insurance, in most cases, the flu shot will be free, no matter where you get it.
For those without insurance, the cost of the vaccination varies by location but can range between $30 and $75.
How effective are flu shots and how long do they last?
“It lasts about six months,” said Richardson, which is why it’s important to get vaccinated now so you’re covered during the peak months.
There are several strains of influenza that spread every year. “The flu vaccine is what health-care professionals think will be the top three or four strains, that’s why some years it works well or not so well,” said Richardson. “We don’t know how well the flu vaccine is going to work this year.”
But that doesn’t mean you should be less keen to get it. “It’s still possible that you can catch influenza after having had the flu shot. But if you have had the flu shot and you develop antibodies, you generally get a much less severe course of the influenza,” said Wong. “You will not get as sick” as you would have without it in your system, he explained.
Can you get the flu from getting a flu shot?
“I cannot say this enough: The flu shot cannot give you the flu,” said Richardson. “The flu vaccine itself doesn’t have any live virus to it, so it can’t give you the flu.”
What are the possible side effects of the flu shot?
However, some people will feel “flu-like” symptoms like fatigue and spike a small fever for about two days after they are vaccinated. This is normal — and again, this doesn’t mean they have the flu.
“This is your body responding to a foreign substance and sort of reacting to what it’s received,” said Wong.
Richardson said some people will develop a little bit of redness at the injection site.
“The majority of people who get it are fine,” he said.
How does the coronavirus differ from the flu?
Confusingly, there are many similarities between the coronavirus and the flu. Both are respiratory viruses that spread through droplets.
“The classic symptoms for flu are fever, body aches, cough and other repository symptoms like shortness of breath,” explained Richardson. “COVID has all of those and more, like sore throat, rashes, we’ve seen significant strain on the heart, the lungs, the brain.”
It’s also possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
If you start experiencing flu or coronavirus symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor, self-isolate and wear a mask at home.
Is it safe to visit a doctor’s office to get the flu shot?
Don’t be afraid to head to a health-care facility. “Hospitals and primary care offices are some of the safest spaces,” said Richardson. “Because we’re making sure that we’re consistently following infectious disease protocols and social distancing.”
No matter where you get vaccinated, make sure your provider is practicing social distancing and requiring people to wear masks, added Richardson. “Do your own risk assessment.”
How can you protect yourself from the flu?
You can stay safe from the flu the same ways in which you’re protecting yourself from the coronavirus. “If you’re able to social distance, wash hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough, those are the preventions from influenza,” said Wong.
“That’s a best-case scenario, reducing the flu and COVID through the same process,” said Richardson.
Don’t lean on these measures alone, though, added Wong. “It’s still important to get yourself protected as much as you can. Get the flu shot to protect yourself even further.”