WASHINGTON — Flu season is fast approaching, and this year health experts say it’s more important than ever that as many people get vaccinated as possible.
Washington’s top health officials say, in the middle of a pandemic, the last thing our medical system needs is an influx of flu patients.
“The potential for a severe influenza season, or even an average influenza season, compounding the COVID outbreak is very, very disturbing and worrisome,” said King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin.
Extra flu patients could cause additional strain on hospitals already overburdened with coronavirus patients, but there is another concern as well: the flu and COVID-19 share several symptoms, complicating treatment for both.
“We don’t really know what the interaction between the two diseases may be,” Duchin said. “It certainly will be tremendously confusing to have many people with influenza illness, which will look just like COVID at the beginning, and will need to be tested and isolated and quarantined if they had developed influenza — as if they had COVID — until COVID can be ruled out.”
While flu shots are only about 50 percent effective, ever little thing helps in the battle against the pandemic, say health officials. They recommend flu shots for everyone six months old or older. Patients over 65 should consult with their doctor first.
“With COVID-19’s continued presence in our communities, something as basic as a flu shot is even more important this year to keep our communities healthy and prevent the spread of disease,” said Dr. David Carlson, MultiCare’s Chief Physician Officer.
Patients also should keep in mind that the vaccine takes about two weeks before it’s effective, and it does not protect against the coronavirus or other respiratory illnesses.
The Washington State Department of Health says there are several changes patients should be aware of for the 2020-2021 flu season:
All children under 19 can now receive flu vaccines and other recommended vaccines for free.
Most insurance plan cover the cost of the flu vaccine for adults.
Adults without insurance may qualify to receive the vaccine at no cost. Find more information on free vaccination from your local health department.
Guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows the best time to get vaccinated is between September and October, though if the flu season persists past October it’s never too late to get the vaccine. Receiving a vaccine too early, like in August or July, can leave it ineffective by the time the flu season peaks later in the year.
Find more information on this year’s flu season on the Washington State Department of Health’s website.
This article originally appeared on the Gig Harbor Patch