Protecting yourself against preventable diseases like the flu in normal times can help reduce the severity and duration of the illness. During a pandemic, however, it is especially important for people to get a flu shot to lower the risk of contracting multiple diseases at once. It can also help prevent what health officials call a ‘twindemic.’ This occurs when a severe flu season overlaps with a pandemic such as COVID-19.
“Influenza and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses with many common symptoms,” said Moda Health Clinical Pharmacist, Emily Kemenyes. “Getting the flu vaccine can reduce the likelihood of catching the flu, where symptoms could get confused with COVID.”
Because COVID-19 has created many uncertainties about this year’s flu season, Emily says getting a flu shot is the best way for people to protect themselves against a virus that we have a known strategy for.
“(COVID-19) is still a novel virus, so we still don’t know a lot about it. If you can prevent one illness that’s very common and we have a vaccine for, it’s important to protect yourself against it,” she said. “When your body is working really hard to fight one disease, and you introduce another virus on top of that, it’s very hard to have enough energy to overcome both viruses at the same time.”
Before each flu season, the Moda Health Pharmacy team educates members by phone, letters and through digital channels about the importance of getting a flu vaccine. Emily says her team follows the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Prevention and Control) recommendations of getting a flu shot before the end of October. Because it takes 2-4 weeks for people to build antibodies after they get a flu shot, this helps ensure they are protected against the disease before flu season peaks in January and February.
“Most people see the flu as some sniffles and a little fatigue for a few days, and it seems like no big deal,” she said. “But it’s important to know that the flu doesn’t target one population or another. It can hit anybody really hard and really fast. I can’t emphasize enough that the flu is a lot stronger than most people give it credit for.”
Positive ripple effect
While the flu can spread quickly, Emily says getting a flu shot can have a positive ripple effect on the community. She says every person who gets the vaccine helps protect others, including those who are higher risk.
“Getting a flu shot is like a rolling snowball effect. When one person gets vaccinated, it helps protect others who they come in contact with,” she said. “A large amount of the population needs to get their flu shot so we have that herd immunity protection in communities. For people with chronic conditions who are higher risk, anyone who gets a flu shot is helping protect their loved ones, neighbors, and others in their community.”
Local pharmacies are typically the most convenient locations to get the flu shot. They are fully equipped, accept walk-ins (so you don’t need to schedule an appointment), and are usually covered by most insurance plans. Your doctor’s office is also a good place. Emily suggests that anyone who has their well-exams in the fall to also schedule a flu shot during that visit if they are trying to limit their exposure to COVID-19.
Health benefits of the flu shot
Emily shared some of the health benefits that the flu vaccine can have on yourself and the community at large, including:
Reducing barriers to care
Emily’s career in pharmacy started with an interest in teaching, chemistry and anatomy. Pharmacy blends all of them together. The idea that pharmacy has different ways to help individuals and populations reduce barriers to care is what drives her passion for vaccinations.
“In retail pharmacy, we help individuals overcome barriers that are hindering their health,” she said. “Switching to managed care expands that into a healthcare population where you’re helping make decisions that reduce barriers of care on a larger level. You really feel that sense of responsibility to care for other people and for your community. It’s one way we can help our population improve health for our community and for our population as a whole. That’s something I always keep in my heart and what keeps me going.”