While the public is waiting for the much-anticipated vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, a local health official is recommending the importance of getting the influenza vaccine, commonly known as the flu shot.
“We’re pushing it so we don’t have an influenza epidemic on top of the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to avoid a ‘twindemic,’” says Dr. Catherine Bodnar, medical director for the Midland County Department of Public Health. She’s served in that position for two and a half years, after retiring as a regional health director for Dow.
“If you haven’t got it, you should still get it. It’s not too late,” Bodnar adds.
State of Michigan health officials wants to see an increase of 33% in the number of persons getting a flu shot this year compared to last year. In an average year, about 40% of the population gets immunized for influenza. The two age groups who show the highest rates for receiving the flu shot are children ages 6 months to 4 years and adults over the age of 65.
As of Nov. 27, the health department reported 1,667 persons immunized for the flu, compared to 1,583 for all of the last flu season.
“Influenza is a febrile, viral illness that causes a classic constellation of symptoms: fever, body aches, headaches, sore throat, runny nose, chills, minor cough, and fatigue,” says Bodnar. She notes that there is an overlap of symptoms for influenza and COVID-19.
Regarding this flu season so far, Bodnar says, “We have relatively low levels of the flu.” The peak usually occurs sometime between December and March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 12,000 to 61,000 persons have died annually of influenza in the United States since 2010. There’s a wide range because of variations in the severity of different flu seasons and in how influenza deaths are recorded.
To get a flu shot, you can make an appointment by calling the Midland County Health Department at 989-832-6661. Flu shots are also administered at pharmacies and some workplaces. Check with your health insurance provider to see if it’s covered.
“We have some flu shots reserved for people who don’t have insurance,” says Bodnar. At the health department, it’s available for children ages 6 months and up. Walgreens serves children starting at age 4, CVS at age 3.
“It doesn’t give you the flu,” Bodnar says, addressing a misconception about the flu shot. There may be side effects, including an achy feeling, fatigue or headache. Bodnar says side effects indicate the vaccine is working, “It means your immune response is kicking in.”
The CDC is developing plans for the distribution of any coronavirus vaccine that gets emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“We have heard the COVID-19 vaccine should not be given simultaneously with the flu vaccine,” says Bodnar. “However, there will be more information to come as we receive recommendations regarding the upcoming vaccines.”
To help stop the transmission of COVID-19, Bodnar offers a reminder to wear your mask, social distance, and to wash or sanitize your hands frequently.
“We’re still going to have to do these public health measures. The [vaccine is] not going to be an instant, magic bullet.”