Just as certainly as we are experiencing hurricane season this summer/fall, we will soon be experiencing another cold and flu season.
There are multiple strains of flu circulating the globe each year, and billions of flu vaccines are prepared, identifying and selecting currently the most prominent and potentially damaging strains of the flu.
The Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 pandemic was an H1N1 strain of the virus. Globally half a billion were infected and in excess of 20-million died. The flu itself is typically not the cause of death, with the virus compromising the immune system and at times causing various organs to fail, it is typically secondary infections, such as pneumonia, heart or respiratory failure linked to other pre-existing conditions which rapidly accelerate the downward spiral of a body fighting to stave off multiple infections.
This year’s flu strains will arrive atop a global pandemic of a novel Coronavirus (SARS virus cousin of the common cold), with presenting symptoms similar to the flu. As these flu strains arrive, that achy body, fatigue or low-grade fever might be symptoms of COVID19, or they might be the flu. And here is the real beauty, as these are two separate viruses, catching one makes you MORE susceptible to the other, and treating the two at the same time will be extremely difficult for physicians.
Most of the world is anxiously awaiting the tested and proven arrival of a vaccine for COVID19. And yet we have had flu vaccines for decades and acceptance and vaccination of those vaccines seldom reaches higher than 60-70 percent of the population here in the United States. Getting a flu shot cannot give you the flu. In 20+ years of annual flu shots, I had ONE episode of a sore arm, near the injection site, and minor body aches and fatigue which lasted a day or so. And in those same 20 plus years, while watching co-workers and occasionally family members succumb to varying degrees of fever, vomiting, and other flu systems…I have never gotten the flu.
This year, the CDC best-recommended calendar window for vaccination is September and October, though the flu will be in circulation long after that. The vaccine takes just a few minutes to administer, is covered by all forms of insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as many non-insurance copayments and pharmaceutical discount programs. You can choose to get your flu shot through your primary care provider, at your preferred pharmacy, some places of work (far fewer this year due to the pandemic), or at an increasing number of big-box retailers with onsite clinics or pharmacies.
Like mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing, a flu shot is a preventative measure which both protect YOU, and your family, and others you come in contact with. In my case this year, I went to a Publix grocery store to pick up a few items…and I noticed a sign promoting a free flu shot and $10-gift card for getting the vaccine. That was enough for my buggy and me to go check it out. Filled out a one-page form that took less than two minutes. No long medical history presented a driver’s license and insurance card. I was asked to go shop or run errands for 15-20 minutes while my vaccine dose was prepared and requisite paperwork was filed. I returned a few minutes early, rolled up my sleeve, felt the slight prick of a tiny needle, and was handed the documentation of which strains of flu are covered in the vaccine I received and a Publix $10-gift card.
I am a big believer in using carrots as well as sticks to incent positive behavior, and want to tip my hat and thank Publix for such a thoughtful and helpful boost to perhaps serve as a catalyst for a few thousand more shoppers to do the right and bright thing. I have heard, time and again, many express frustrations during this pandemic of a desire to “do something” to positively impact our situation, or retake some element of control in their own health care as well as their families. This is one of those things. The flu shot is recommended for EVERYONE age 6-months and up. Roll up your sleeves, make your appointment or go shopping and tack on this errand…but either way, now is the time, and this really will make a difference. Go get your flu shots. STAT!