Essential Intelligence

Flu Season Is Here. Should We Be Worried?

A Sarasota physician weighs in on getting the flu vaccine this year—and why it's more important than ever.

By Allison Forsyth October 12, 2021

It's important to get both the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine.

It's important to get both the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine.

Last year's flu season was virtually nonexistent thanks to the mask mandates and social distancing we all practiced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, mask regulations have relaxed, leaving people exposed to germs their immune systems haven't encountered in a while.

While it's too early to tell how Covid-19 and flu will interact at the peak of flu season (which is generally end of October through May), there are precautionary measures doctors are recommending.

Get your flu shot. No, really, get your flu shot.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital medical staff are advising community members to get their flu shots before the end of October, especially if they're over the age of 65. This will prepare the immune system to fight during peak flu season. Also, physicians advise the public to continue to wear masks in crowded spaces and practice social distancing when possible.

"Last year, because of all the measures we took, we saw no influenza. I don't recall seeing a single case [at the hospital]. But we generally see many cases per week, and one or two patients dying in our intensive care unit from influenza," says Sarasota Memorial infectious disease specialist Dr. Manuel Gordillo.

Yes, it is possible to contract influenza and Covid-19 at the same time.

Since both are respiratory illnesses and both have very similar symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue and fever, it's almost impossible to tell them apart without getting a Covid-19 and/or flu test. Doctors fear the U.S. could have a twindemic—that is, outbreaks of Covid-19 and the flu at the same time—on its hands if the right precautions aren't taken.

However, it's totally fine—and safe—to get both the flu and Covid-19 vaccine at the same time.

You can even get both at the same visit. Health care providers will administer one shot in your right arm and one in your left. SMH's Gordillo says this recommendation is the same for everyone, even if you're immunocompromised. "From a practical standpoint, it's better to get it done all together," he adds.

What about getting a Covid booster and a flu shot at the same time? 

Yes, this is also a safe and available option.

But mostly: both vaccines are equally important. 

"It's critical for a person who's unvaccinated for Covid to get the Covid-19 vaccine," says Gordillo. "That is the priority."

Right underneath that, he says, the remainder of the population should get the flu shot. Remember: you can even get your Covid vaccine booster or first dose together with the flu shot, depending on preference.

Research has found Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be 60 to 70 percent effective against the Delta variant. The flu vaccine is generally 40 to 80 percent effective at preventing influenza. (You can see the nine FDA-approved flu vaccines for the 2021-2022 flu season here.) Keep in mind both are made to prevent hospitalization and death in recipients. So, while you still may get sick, your chances of severe illness are greatly reduced.

Pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens and Publix offer the flu shot and the Covid-19 vaccin. You can also get the flu shot at doctor's offices. For a list of local Covid vaccine and testing sites, click here.

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