The flu vaccine keeps millions of people out of doctors’ offices and hospitals each year. While that’s reason enough to sign up for a workplace vaccination or visit your local pharmacy every flu season, Margaret Harris, MD, spokesperson for the World Health Organization, says COVID-19 makes the fall 2020 flu shot particularly vital to both your well-being and public health.
In a virtual briefing from Geneva, Dr. Harris warned that skipping your flu shot this year could lead to hospital overflow and other dangerous health outcomes come fall. “If you have an increase in a respiratory illness when you already have a very high burden of respiratory illness, that puts even more pressure on the health system,” she says. Given that about 200,000 people get hospitalized for the flu each year, getting the vaccine—and thus minimizing your chance of contracting influenza by 40 to 60 percent—can greatly lessen the load that will be placed on the entire medical community in the fall.
For many, the prospect of entering a public place—like a pharmacy or doctor’s office—to receive a vaccine may be a source of fear. But Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, predicts that the environment will be accommodating and sanitized when you do go in for your shot. “I think it will be pretty safe to get one at doctor’s office or pharmacy,” he says. “Both have adapted to COVID, and doctors’ offices will probably have days that they only do flu shots, so you are not around other people who are there when they are ill. And they have good standards in place for social distancing and pre-screening.”
Since many workplaces still have telecommuting in place for the foreseeable future, Dr. Plescia also predicts more pop-ups for receiving the vaccine outside of the pharmacy or doctors’ office setting. Remember: A major part of flattening the curve of COVID-19 (or spreading out the rate of infection so as to not overwhelm our health care system and infrastructure) revolves around staying well as best you can. And this year—as with all years—that means getting your flu shot.