Flu immunizations are critical this year

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With the flu season upon us during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is doubly essential to lessen the risk of getting the flu. In a typical year, flu is seen from fall to early spring, with varying degrees of severity. We know that we will have sneezing, coughing and cold/flu symptoms around us each year, and this year particularly, we will need to do all we can to prevent the flu with effective immunization. 

Notably, the CDC believes that the flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading this flu season. It is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, though no one is certain how often that may occur. The symptoms of flu are very similar to COVID-19, but those immunized will have a lesser chance of the flu or have a milder case. Because it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. The behavior we have been practicing since the arrival of COVID-19 —hand washing, face masks, avoiding large crowds, minimizing social contacts by staying six feet apart, staying home when ill— all help in preventing influenza as well.

 There are many different flu viruses, and they are continually changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated to match circulating flu viruses. Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses that research suggests will be most common.

This season’s flu vaccines were updated to better match viruses expected to be circulating in the United States. There is no change in the CDC’s recommendation on the timing of vaccination this flu season. Getting vaccinated in July or August would have been too early, especially for older people, because of the likelihood of reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season. September and October are good times to get vaccinated. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue, even in January or later.

Some people are more vulnerable to catching the flu. They include people over 65 years old, children between six months and five years, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions. Others at increased risks are people who are obese, have respiratory illnesses, work in a nursing home or healthcare facility or caregivers of anyone with high risk. 

All workers in public settings, or those in regular contact with these workers, should be immunized, including teachers, childcare workers, healthcare providers and public workers. College students and those in the military or anyone living in close contact with other groups of people are also at a higher risk.

Getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19. Flu vaccines reduce the risk of severe flu illness, hospitalization and death. Getting a flu vaccine this fall also will help conserve potentially scarce health care resources. No evidence suggests a flu vaccination increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19. The flu shot cannot cause the flu as it is not made with the live virus. However, you may have mild flu-like symptoms for a day or two as your body responds and builds up antibodies.

Your primary care physician’s office, pharmacies, flu clinics, and sometimes workplaces all provide flu vaccinations. The shot is available in regular  doses and high doses for people over 65 years.

The Farmington Valley Visiting Nurse Association has public flu clinics throughout the valley. Both the high dose for adults over age 65 and regular doses will be available for adults and children over nine years. Clinics will be held outdoors under tents. All CDC required pandemic guidelines will be taken at the clinics with masks, social distancing, gloves, sanitizing and temperature checks.

• In Granby, there are two flu clinics at the Senior Center:  Thursday, Oct. 15, 2–5 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 24, 9:30 a.m.–noon.

• The East Granby Senior Center will have a flu clinic on Monday, Oct. 19, 3:30–5:30 p.m.

• East Hartland’s flu clinic is at Camp Alice Merritt, 167B Hartland Blvd on Route 20, on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. 

Please call the VNA office at 860-651-3539 to make an appointment. For other flu clinics that may have a more convenient location or date, please go to farmingtonvalleyvna.org to see the full schedule of clinics and to obtain consent and information documents.

Prepared by Nancy Scheetz, RN, Executive Director, Farmington Valley VNA