It’s more important than ever to get a flu shot this year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, say public health officials.
“We definitely want people to get the flu shot this year,” said Lambton medical officer of health Dr. Sudit Ranade. “There are early indications that it may offer additional protection against COVID-19.”
The degree of that protection isn’t clear, he said, “but even if it’s a little bit, it’s probably worth taking this year.”
There’s “very preliminary research” in countries that have already had COVID-19 outbreaks during their winter flu seasons that shows flu shots had an effect on the severity of COVID-19 and disease mortality, he said.
Why also isn’t clear, he said.
“It’s possible it just revs up your immune system a little bit and prepares it to handle all kinds of respiratory diseases, but that’s just speculation.”
Bookings for flu shot clinic appointments via the health unit in Lambton began Oct. 20. People are asked to visit lambtonpublichealth.ca/flu-shot or call 519-383-8331.
Flu shots are also given at pharmacies and via primary-care providers.
The shot, recommended for anyone six months or older, is also helpful to reduce the prevalence of sickness in the community and to keep people from crowding hospital emergency rooms, Ranade said.
Bluewater Health generally plans for a “surge” of patients in winter months.
“The flu vaccine is proven to reduce the number of doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths related to the flu,” said health unit supervisor Crystal Palleschi in a statement.
“During a pandemic, it’s important to reduce the strain on the health-care system from other infections, so we have the capacity to respond to COVID-19.”
COVID-19 and influenza spread similarly – through coughing, sneezing or touching infected surfaces, health officials said.
People 65 years and older, under five years old, with chronic health conditions, pregnant and living in care facilities are more vulnerable to flu and COVID-related complications, health officials said, urging anyone in close contact with people in those groups to get a flu shot.
Proper handwashing, covering coughs with tissues or sleeves, keeping surfaces clean, and staying home if sick are also important measures to help stop the spread of both viruses, officials said.
“This is one of those years where flu shots are kind of like toilet paper and hair dye – everybody is going to want one,” said Ranade, cautioning people they may have to wait.
“So it’s important to stay patient and recognize that getting your flu shot this year is important, but whether you get it this week, next week, or the week after is not materially different to your risk.”