As flu season approaches amid a global pandemic, health experts say it is more important than ever to get your flu shots, as they can help to protect you from contracting other diseases, including COVID-19.
“Of course, we always recommend getting your flu shot every year, but we all know that the flu can definitely lower your immune system, making you more predisposed to other infections, like COVID,” said Brian Downs, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Urgent Care.
Influenza is a serious disease that plagues millions each year. However, this flu season, it could be even more damaging as COVID-19 continues to spread.
“We are urging everyone to get vaccinated because the influenza vaccine remains the most effective prevention against contracting the disease and its complications,” Dr. David E. Bronstein, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said in a prepared statement. “Catching the flu will compromise your immune system and potentially make you more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, which would result in dire consequences to your health. The flu is preventable, and the flu shot is our best defense against it.”
Every flu season, which typically begins in October and lasts until March, health experts recommend anybody 6 months of age or older get the vaccine, agreeing that immunization is the best defense against getting or spreading the flu, which is especially harmful to sensitive groups, including elderly, pregnant women, babies who are 6 months and older, along with those with chronic health conditions — many of the same groups most susceptible to COVID-19.
“The more people who get vaccinated, the less likely you’re going to transmit that illness to people that may be immune-compromised,” Downs said. “A lot of times what I see is younger people who (think) they don’t need it because they’re healthy. … They probably don’t. They’re probably healthy enough and have good, strong immune systems to fight it. However, they could pass it to their parents or their grandparents, who may not be able to fight off the virus as well.
“We’re trying to protect as many people as we can,” he added. “Even though most people think they shouldn’t get the shot, they could be protecting other people.”
One of the common misconceptions Downs has seen from his patients is that the vaccine gives them the flu.
“You cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” he said. “The flu shot is not a live vaccine. It just boosts your immune system to recognize the most virulent strains of flu that have been identified around the world that could cause the most havoc in our community.”
Bronstein agreed, adding, “Side effects, when they do occur, are typically very mild. However, by not getting vaccinated, you put yourself and your loved ones at a greater risk of getting the flu, which causes serious illness, hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year.”
This is especially true this year, as the flu can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to catching other infectious diseases, Downs and Bronstein agreed.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people get a flu shot no later than the end of October, as it takes a few weeks for the vaccine to become fully protective, though officials encourage people to get vaccinated later, rather than not at all.