Infectious disease experts with Memorial Hermann and UTHealth say this year, more than any other year, it’s extremely important that everyone receive a flu shot.
“COVID-19 will most likely be with us throughout the 2020-2021 flu season, which starts in October, peaks December through February, and can extend as far as May,” said John Butler, MD, medical director of epidemiology at Memorial Hermann. “What we do not need is a significant flu outbreak on top of a pandemic. If this happens, health systems all across the Greater Houston area and the rest of the country will be overwhelmed, more so than at any time during the current crisis.”
Butler says it can take up to two weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect, so it’s important for everyone to receive their shot before flu activity picks up, usually in October.
“This is usually the time we begin to see the spread of the influenza virus in the community,” Butler said. “If a person receives a shot around early to mid-September they should have no problem being protected throughout the flu season.”
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive a flu shot every year. Keep in mind, very young children might need to receive two shots because they receive a reduced dose each time. People over age 65, pregnant women, people with cancer, diabetes or others with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk of contracting the flu.
Flu symptoms include:
There is a myth that receiving a flu shot might actually give someone the flu. Butler says this is not possible because the vaccine does not contain a live virus. It’s also important to remember that the flu vaccine will not provide protection against COVID-19.
“This is why it is important for everyone to continue wearing a mask in public, practicing social distancing as well as good hand hygiene until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed,” said Butler.
Experts believe it will be very hard to distinguish between the flu and COVID-19 this winter. Luis Ostrosky, MD, medical director for epidemiology at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, says getting a flu shot will give doctors a better chance of distinguishing between the two.
“Although manufacturers are working on a combo test, it’s not known when it will be available,” said Ostrosky, a professor of medicine and epidemiology and vice chair of healthcare quality with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, and an infectious disease specialist at UT Physicians. “This will be a very challenging fall and winter for all of us. I encourage everyone to get a flu shot. It’s truly your best defense against contracting the flu and spreading it to others.”