On these pages in recent days, there has been a lot of discussion about getting flu shots.

The issue is an important one. Scientific American published an article on Thursday discussing concerns that if Americans choose not to get a flu shot, there could be a health care crisis between COVID and flu cases happening simultaneously.

At this critical moment in time, we do not want our hospitals overwhelmed.

According to published reports, the good news is that a safe and effective flu vaccine is already available to everyone aged 6 months and older.

A Real Time Barometer survey revealed that 92% of physicians in the United States are recommending that patients get their annual flu shot as soon as possible in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York and California, the number of physicians recommending a flu shot immediately jumps to 96% and 94%, respectively.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traditionally recommends patients receive a flu shot by the end of October to help combat the virus during flu season, almost all (85%) of the 2,400-plus doctors surveyed from Sept. 17-20 across 31 countries are encouraging patients to receive a flu shot immediately.

“Each year, the flu sickens millions and hospitalizes hundreds of thousands of people during the fall and winter months. The elderly are especially hard hit every year,” said Peter Kirk, Sermo CEO. “While physicians always recommend flu shots, the fact that almost all are recommending that patients receive a vaccine sooner rather than later shows just how concerned they are about the potential for flu to deplete valuable resources in the middle of this historic pandemic.”

The survey also found that physicians, like everyone else, are planning to either eliminate or sharply curtail travel plans during the holiday season because of COVID-19. Worldwide, 68% of physicians said that their holiday travel plans are ‘significantly impacted’ by the pandemic. Overall, in the U.S., 66% of physicians said they didn’t plan to travel with their families. Again, in New York and California, the percentages are higher.

The numbers follow the belief physicians have that a second surge of COVID-19 cases is on the horizon. Globally, 93% of physicians expect a second wave of cases as the Northern Hemisphere enters the fall and winter months, and people spend more time indoors.

So a flu shot makes sense.

“The answer to the question ‘Why should you get a flu vaccine?’ is the same this year as it is every year. But there are some additional reasons why it’s extra beneficial to get (it) this year,” Emily Landon, executive medical director of infection prevention and control at University of Chicago Medicine, told Scientific American this week. She explains that influenza can have dire consequences ranging from loss of productivity to death. “You should do everything you can to prevent the flu, and the shot is the best way we can do that,” Landon was quoted as saying.

The CDC estimated that in the 2018–19 season, some 35.5 million Americans came down with the flu and that about 34,000 of them died from it. Flu shots prevented another 4.4 million cases and about 3,500 deaths. In 2020 vaccinating as many people as possible against influenza could be critical to preventing a dual-epidemic scenario. But getting a flu shot is good policy in any year, according to the article.

“In this COVID flu season that’s coming, it’s even more important to get a flu shot because it’s going to be hard to tell the difference between flu and COVID,” considering that the two diseases have similar symptoms, Landon was quoted as saying.

In fact, according to the CDC, it’s impossible to tell without a test. Influenza and COVID-19 have such similar symptoms, you may need to get tested to know what’s making you miserable.

Body aches, sore throat, fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and headaches are symptoms shared by the two. One difference? People with the flu typically feel sickest during the first week of illness. With COVID-19, people may feel the worst during the second or third week, and they may be sicker for a longer period. Precautions against COVID-19 — masks, social distancing, hand-washing — also slow the spread of the flu, so health officials hope continued vigilance could lessen the severity of this year’s flu season.

So get the shot. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. It is the smart thing to do, and there is no good reason not to.

This editorial first appeared in the Rutland Herald on Sept. 26.

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