Flu Vaccine Still Important During Pandemic
By Amie Knowles
November 11, 2020

With flu season creeping up, a twindemic could be in the air.

MARTINSVILLE – With so much tension surrounding vaccines in 2020, there’s one experts still urge people to get. Yep, folks still need a flu shot.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dedicated an entire page of their website to frequently asked influenza questions. Out of the five subject areas the questions cover, three relate to COVID-19.

As flu season approaches and the coronavirus continues its global spread, it’s possible that people could get both infections this year. If spikes in the flu and COVID occur at the same time, it’s a twindemic.

For one, experts tout a new vaccine’s fast approach. For the other, vials await patients ready for a vaccination.

This year’s flu vaccine

Each year, the flu vaccine protects against the three or four viruses research suggests will be most common, the CDC reports. This year’s flu vaccine received updates to better match viruses likely circulating in the United States during the late fall and winter months.

There are two new influenza vaccines this year. The CDC noted that both vaccines are for those aged 65 year and older. The first is a quadrivalent high-dose vaccine. This vaccine replaces the previously licensed trivalent high-dose vaccine.

The second new vaccine is a quadrivalent adjuvanted vaccine. This vaccine is similar to the previously licensed trivalent vaccine containing MF59 adjuvant, but it has one additional influenza B component.

There are also several different options for the flu vaccine, which providers choose. Those are: standard dose flu shots, high-dose shots for people 65 years and older, shots made with adjuvant for people 65 years and older, shots made with virus grown in cell culture which involves no eggs in the vaccine production, shots made using a vaccine production technology that do not require having a candidate vaccine virus sample to produce and a live attenuated influenza vaccine. The last denotes a vaccine made with attenuated, or weakened, live virus, given by nasal spray.

No vaccination vacation

In Martinsville, the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness hasn’t seen an influx of people chomping at the bit for their flu shot.

“In 2019, we administered approximately 900 flu vaccinations,” said Courtney White, registered nurse coordinator for infection control and telehealth for the MHC Coalition for Health and Wellness. “Currently, we are not experiencing a surge of patients wanting their flu vaccine.”

So far, about half of their expected recipients came to one of their two federally qualified health centers, either Bassett Family Practice in Bassett or Ridgeway Family Health in Ridgeway. Both health centers welcome all insurances and have a sliding fee scale available, noted Brittany Anthony, director of marketing, development and community relations for the MHC Coalition for Health and Wellness.

White expressed that it’s not too late for those wanting a flu shot for the 2020-21 season.

“Flu season, the period of highest influenza activity, normally begins in October and ends in late May. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that vaccination by the end of October is preferred, vaccination in November and beyond can be beneficial during most flu seasons, since influenza activity usually peaks in January or later,” White said. “Last year, 2019, the first recorded case was week 45. We began giving flu vaccines in late September and have administered approximately 450 to date.”

Vaccination concerns

There’s no lack of folks expressing leeriness about the COVID-19 vaccine this year, which naturally brings others into question. However, that doesn’t excuse skipping a flu shot – and no, it’s not the same as the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine.

Forgoing the flu shot could cause more harm than good. While the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee a person won’t contract influenza, there’s a better chance that the virus won’t cause a devastating impact.

Without the flu vaccine, a person has a higher possibility of contracting the virus. Their health risk could double, considering the CDC revealed that the flu and COVID-19 can occur in tandem. There’s no conclusive evidence yet concerning how common having both viruses at the same time might be.

For those concerned about having both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, there’s a test for that. The CDC developed a test that checks for A and B type seasonal flu viruses and SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. U.S. public health laboratories will use the test. Testing for these viruses at the same time will give public health officials important information about how flu and COVID-19 are spreading and what prevention steps they should take. The test will also help public health laboratories save time and testing materials, and possibly return test results faster.

The Food and Drug Administration gave CDC an Emergency Use Authorization for the new test. Initial test kits arrived at public health laboratories in early August 2020. CDC continues to manufacture and distribute these kits.

Not the same

Also, just because a person might’ve had COVID-19, that doesn’t give them immunity from the flu, even though the two have similar symptoms.

“CDC always recommends patients to receive their flu vaccine unless they are allergic or have other medical conditions that prevent the patient from receiving the vaccine,” White said. “Health officials are actually encouraging previous COVID-19 patients to receive the vaccine in order to prevent having two respiratory outbreaks circulating simultaneously in our populations.”

Vulnerable populations

Whether a person runs weekly marathons or they barely leave the house, the flu doesn’t discriminate. However, there are a few populations more prone to serious complications if they contract the virus. Generally, that’s the young, the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions.

“It is recommended that 65 years of age and older, patients with chronic diseases and infants ages six months to four years of age, be vaccinated as they are the most vulnerable to this virus. These populations have less immunities to fight the virus off and most likely will end up in the hospital if [the] virus is contracted,” White said. “Taking the flu vaccine does not prevent the virus. However, it introduces antibodies into your system giving your body the strength it needs to fight the virus off. Your symptoms will be decreased and the length of the virus remaining in your body will be reduced.”

Limiting exposure, the MHC Coalition for Health and Wellness came up with a plan earlier this year. Both facilities limited the number of patients in the centers, even administering some services curbside. The same principals stand for those receiving a flu shot.

“Our number one priority is keeping our patients and staff safe. For this flu season, we are asking our patients to call the office if they need a vaccine. They are then instructed to pull into one of our parking spots labeled ‘Flu Clinic’ and a nurse will come out to their vehicle. The nurse takes their temperature, has [the] patient sign the consent and administers the vaccine,” White said. “It’s that easy.”

Education matters

With misinformation rampant on social media and other communication platforms, there’s one clear message this year. There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccination increases a person’s risk of getting sick from COVID-19.

The fear comes from a series of social media posts claiming the flu vaccine causes problems. The posts allege the vaccine increases the chance of getting COVID-19 by 36%.

That’s false, the CDC said. A Canadian study prompted by the false claims found that a flu vaccination did not increase risk for seasonal coronaviruses. The Canadian findings highlighted the protective benefits of flu vaccination.

The MHC Coalition for Health and Wellness encourages best health practices, pandemic or not.

“There is really no data to show one way or the other if COVID is [stopping] patients from wanting to get their flu vaccines. Our practices are sending education through the patient portal and sending reminder calls [and] texts encouraging the flu vaccine,” White said. “In the last eight weeks, we have vaccinated approximately 450 patients. We are dedicated to making getting your flu vaccine as easy as possible.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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