Why local doctors are urging flu shots even more this season

Drug Mart Chief Pharmacist Christopher Bowman provides an immunization in Enon. CONTRIBUTED
Drug Mart Chief Pharmacist Christopher Bowman provides an immunization in Enon. CONTRIBUTED

Flu shots are urged more than ever this year, as health officials seek to avoid the challenge of twin surges of influenza and COVID-19.

Annual flu shots have long been recommended for all people six months and older, with rare exceptions, as a way to prevent sickness and death. The flu shot reduces the risk for people, their household and workplace, and other people around them, and can lessen the severity of illness if they get sick.

Dr. Roberto Colón, associate chief medical officer at Miami Valley Hospital and Premier Health’s vice president of quality and safety, said that this flu season will be different than previous years and is already not following the normal rules of the flu.

He said by now in a typical year there is already significant flu activity in the particularly in the Southern states, but so far “it’s been remarkably quiet” this year. Colón said that might signify a later start to our flu season because not many people are travelling the same way. It may change the way the flu is propagated in the U.S., but we’ll see the flu this year, he said.

“Because we’re going to seeing it, the preparation for flu remains important and the first layer of protection from flu is prevention and that’s when the flu vaccine comes in,” Colón said. “What I’ve been trying to get everybody to understand is the goal for this year should be is that we should everything we can to make this a year of record low flu cases.”

Another reason to keep flu numbers down is so hospitals can keep their capacities down so they can treat those who have worse flu or COVID-19 outcomes, he said.

He said coming down with influenza could potentially predispose someone to a more severe case of COVID-19. If someone had COVID-19 and got the flu, a person could have a worse outcome because of that, Colón said.

“So the impact of getting those two illnesses at the same time could make either or both of them worse for somebody,” Colón said.

He said the symptoms for the flu and COVID-19 are identical, except the loss of taste and smell are symptoms of COVID-19. Colón also said people should stay informed and stay updated with various changes that come out.

Colón said the recommended time to get a flu shot is in September and October, noting some doctors think the “sweet spot” is mid-October.

Jackie Phillips, Middletown Health Commissioner, said getting the annual flu shot is more important to get this year especially with the overlapping coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic still active.

“Some people are concerned that another respiratory illness might be worse this year,” she said. “We’re hoping public health mitigation (for COVID-19) will give us some help with flu season.”

Phillips urges everyone to get a flu vaccine and that there are plenty of places to get a flu shot.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick, such as people 65 years and older; people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or who may be immunosuppressed; pregnant women; and children younger than 5 years.

Flu vaccines have been recently arriving in the area. Jason Briscoe, Discount Drug Mart director of pharmacy operations, said they have received flu vaccines at all locations, have been vaccinating patients.