By Jin Ni
With the spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide, public health officials are worried about a twindemic — mass surges of both the coronavirus and the flu.
“This could be the worst fall from a public health perspective that we’ve ever had,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with WebMD.
The flu is a respiratory virus with similar symptoms to a cold: fever, cough, sore throat and fatigue. About 8% of Americans get it annually.
“If you do just one thing this year, get a flu shot,” said Jeff Goldstein, pharmacist and owner of Lexington RX Center. “You’re not just getting it to protect yourself. You’re also getting it to protect your loved ones and at-risk individuals who can’t get the flu shot.”
While the flu vaccine does not protect against the coronavirus, it can reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization and death.
“The less people that are hospitalized with the flu, the more that doctors and patients can focus on patients who arrive with COVID-19,” said Dr. Anthony Baffoe-Bonnie, an infectious disease specialist and medical director with Infection Prevention and Control at Carilion Clinic.
Doctors are also worried about Americans getting both the flu and COVID at the same time, since both viruses attack the lungs.
Baffoe-Bonnie said he advises people who aren’t sure which virus they have, or who might have both, to quarantine and call their healthcare provider right away.
Public health officials in Australia already reported a mild flu season, which doctors attribute to residents getting vaccinated, wearing masks and social distancing.
“We want to recreate that in the U.S.,” Baffoe-Bonnie said. “Peaks of the flu and COVID at the same time are going to overwhelm hospitals, strain testing capacity, and limit our ability to catch and treat [both viruses].”
Since the flu vaccine takes two weeks to take effect, health professionals suggest getting the shot right away. This year’s flu season ramps up in November and December so local health officials urge people to get a flu shot by Oct. 31.
To make sure everyone can get flu shots this year, the CDC has worked with manufacturers to purchase and distribute extra flu vaccines to American health providers.
So far, 139.4 million flu shots have been given out.
Rockbridge area residents can get their flu shots at Kroger, Walmart and CVS. Appointments can be made online, and shots are free with most health insurance and Medicare Part B. To make getting a vaccination as safe as possible, all customers are required to wear masks and answer COVID-19 pre-screening questions.
Carilion Clinic healthcare facilities and Rockbridge Area Health Center (RAHC) are also hosting free flu shot clinics through the fall and winter.
“We want to prevent a bad flu season,” said Dr. Laura Kornegay, the Health Director for the Central Shenandoah Health District. “But we’re also honing our skills and abilities to distribute the flu vaccines effectively in anticipation of getting the COVID vaccine.”
Rockbridge Area Health Center’s next drive-thru flu shot clinic will be Nov. 14 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 25 Northridge Lane.