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Get a Flu Vaccine to Avoid the 'Twin Pandemic'

Photo credit: LightFieldStudios, via Getty Images.

The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Donna Arnett, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., Dean and Norton Endowed Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 5, 2020) — While the world waits to hear the results of ongoing clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine, in the hope that we may someday soon return to a pre-2020 state of affairs, we should remember that a vaccine already exists for one viral disease—influenza. The humble flu shot has the ability to prevent thousands of serious illnesses across the United States. For most people, flu vaccines are low-risk, low-cost or free, and relatively easy to access. Here are a few reasons you should get your flu vaccine without delay:

  • This year, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever. Although seasonal influenza and Covid-19 are caused by different viruses, they do share many of the same symptoms. Because flu and Covid-19 can both attack the respiratory system, a person who contracts the flu could be at increased risk of serious illness from Covid-19—and vice versa. As an epidemiologist, I’m very concerned about the potential for a “twin pandemic” of flu and Covid-19. The concern with Covid-19 isn’t just mortality, but also long-term illness. Catching both viruses within a short time has the potential to create a “perfect storm” with long-term consequences.
  • Getting a flu vaccine is low-risk. Because most vaccines use a “dead” or inactive form of the influenza virus, flu vaccines do not cause the flu. Some people may experience brief side effects like redness and swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever or fatigue. These effects should be short-lived, and much milder than an actual case of the flu. Some people may be worried about leaving their homes to get a flu vaccine, due to Covid-19 risk. The good news is that health care facilities in Kentucky have been doing a great job of protecting patients; just keep practicing good hygiene and mask-wearing. Low-contact options like drive-through vaccinations are also available in many communities. The risk of remaining unvaccinated is higher than the small risk encountered in receiving a vaccine from a health care provider.
  • Almost everyone can and should get a flu vaccine. Most flu vaccines are approved for use in any person over the age of six months, including pregnant women and those with certain chronic health conditions. Because older people are at higher risk, there is a higher-potency vaccine indicated for adults over age 65. And nasal spray vaccines can be used in most people between the ages of 2 and 49. Ask your health care provider or local health department about vaccine recommendations and availability. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also have comprehensive information online at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/.
  • Now is the perfect time to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that all Americans be vaccinated for flu by the end of October, to ensure maximum protection throughout the Winter and into early Spring. Flu shot drives are already in full swing across the state. Contact your health care provider or local health department to find a vaccination option near you.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.