You’ve probably heard a lot about shots lately, and with good reason—the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to ending the pandemic, and it’s available for everyone ages 12 and up.
But there’s another vaccine you’ll want to remember this fall: the flu shot.
“The flu shot is going to be very important this year,” says UNC Health family medicine physician Sarah Ruff, MD. She recommends getting the flu shot in September, when it becomes widely available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies. It’s OK to get the flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same visit, according to the CDC.
The flu shot is available to everyone 6 months of age and older; some young children require two doses.
Here are three reasons to get a flu shot this year.
1. The flu shot prevents severe cases of the flu, which kills tens of thousands of people each year.
The flu shot helps protect you from serious illness; you might still get the flu, but you’re less likely to need medical care and hospitalization.
Pre-pandemic, when doctors and patients were unmasked, “I would get the flu almost every year,” Dr. Ruff says. “But because I got the flu shot, it would be so mild I would barely even know I got the flu.”
If you don’t get the flu shot, you’re at higher risk of being hospitalized with pneumonia that started as the flu, especially if you’re older or have a chronic illness, such as heart disease or lung disease. You need a flu shot each year; scientists change its composition to match the flu viruses in circulation that season.
2. Symptoms of the flu, COVID-19 and common colds are similar. Vaccination helps reduce the odds you’ll feel sick.
While COVID-19 runs rampant, other viruses are also spreading, Dr. Ruff says.
“Without a test, there’s no way to tell the difference between COVID, regular cold and flu, so it’s really important to make sure that you’re limiting the chances that what you have is COVID or flu,” Dr. Ruff says.
If you do have these symptoms, you’ll have to get tested before returning to work or school. If you test positive for COVID-19, you’ll be in isolation for at least 10 days to protect others.
3. Get the flu shot to help protect others.
The flu is more dangerous for some groups of people: children under 2, especially newborns; people 65 and older; pregnant or immediately postpartum women; residents of nursing homes; people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, lung disease and heart disease; and those with chronic immune-suppressing conditions such as diabetes and cancer.
The more people who get vaccinated, the less flu will circulate in the community. That means fewer hospitalizations and deaths.
Plus, hospitals are already stressed to capacity with COVID-19 patients.
“The message has been, ‘Let’s keep the hospitals free for the COVID patients,” Dr. Ruff says. “But now, we can keep the hospital free for everybody if everybody gets the shots they can get, which are COVID and flu shots.”
Talk to your doctor about receiving a flu shot. Need a doctor? Find one near you.