- Iris Navarro-Millán, MD, rheumatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City with current appointments at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) and New York-Presbyterian Hospital
- William Schaffner, MD, Medical Director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University
- Tasha Polster, RPh, Vice President of Pharmacy Quality, Compliance, and Patient Safety for Walgreens, overseeing the Retail Pharmacy Immunization program, Pharmacovigilance Group, and Walgreens Patient Safety Organization
While it is important to get vaccinated against the flu each year, it is especially important this year.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of flu season, experts are urging caution for what could be a “twindemic.” A double burden of flu cases along with a coronavirus surge puts added strain on the health care system, with the need for more hospital beds, doctors, and ventilators or other equipment to care for very sick patients. Getting the flu vaccine means protecting yourself, those around you, and easing pressure on the health care system at this time.
Yet despite overwhelming evidence about the benefits of getting a flu shot (especially for people with underlying health issues, including inflammatory arthritis), a number of dangerous myths about the flu vaccine persist.
This webinar debunks common myths about the flu vaccine, particularly for people with chronic conditions. Panelists provide important information on the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, including how to tell symptoms apart, what to do if you suspect being infected, and how to get tested for both.
Fast Facts from the Webinar
1. The right time to get your flu shot is *now*
As flu season begins, the right time to get your flu shot is now (although it is never too late to get vaccinated). By getting vaccinated in the fall, you will have strong protection for yourself and those around you during the peak of the flu season. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to be fully effective in your body. If you have already received the vaccine, your protection against the flu should still last through its peak. The flu season can last from November to May, so getting your flu shot now will help protect you and those around you all flu season long.
2. It is possible to be infected with both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time
There have been reported cases of people infected with both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. Though we are learning more about the risk of having both COVID-19 and the flu together, we know that receiving the flu vaccine can protect you from severe flu and related complications. While many symptoms are the same for flu and COVID-19, if you are experiencing shortness of breath or a new loss of taste or smell, you may have COVID-19 and should contact your doctor regarding your symptoms. The consequences of a having both viruses at the same time can be serious — so it is important to protect yourself by getting a flu shot, continuing to social distance, wearing a mask, and washing your hands. Always speak to your provider regarding any new symptoms you notice and do not make any changes to your treatment without speaking to your doctor.
3. Even if you are isolating as much as possible, you should get your flu shot
Even if you isolating because of the COVID-19 pandemic you can still be exposed to the flu (from someone delivering a package, or a brief interaction with your neighbor). Further, the flu season may last longer than a lockdown or other coronavirus restrictions that may be in place where you live and that are causing you to stay isolated. Finally, if for some reason and unexpectedly you do have to leave your home, if you are vaccinated from flu, you’ll be helping to keep others safe from the flu as well. Because of all these reasons it is best to get a flu show even if you are isolating.
4. Patients with certain pre-existing chronic conditions may be at higher risk for flu complications; getting the flu vaccine can reduce this risk
The flu vaccine helps protect those with pre-existing or autoimmune conditions from catching the flu. For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have nearly twice the risk of getting severe, vaccine-preventable infections such as influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia (bacterial pneumonia) compared to the general population. And, if infected with flu, people with pre-existing or autoimmune conditions have double the risk of serious complications like hospitalization and death. Given these added risks, it’s especially important to get vaccinated.
5. Though the flu vaccine doesn’t provide complete protection against getting sick, vaccination will shorten your recovery time and decrease the severity of the flu itself if you do get sick.
Vaccines work by letting your body’s immune system know what a potential invader (such as the flu virus) will look like. That means that your body can spot it and react more quickly to handle the virus if you are exposed or become ill. For this reason, getting vaccinated against the flu will still help protect you from getting even sicker even if you do get sick with the flu.
6. High-dose flu vaccines are approved only for people age 65 and older
There are a number of flu vaccines, and any of these vaccines will protect and be helpful for an immunocompromised patient. While it is recommended for those aged 65 and older to receive a high-dose flu vaccine (because these can confer a better response to the vaccine in older adults, whose immune systems are naturally weaker because of their age), they are not yet approved for those who are under age 65 or are immunocompromised. The standard vaccine given at a pharmacy will protect you from the flu. Per guidelines, pharmacies cannot administer a high-dose flu vaccine to patients under the age of 65 even with a prescription from a doctor. If you have questions about which flu vaccine is right for you because of your underlying health issues or age, you should discuss it with your heath care provider.
7. Flu vaccine locations are easily accessible in communities around the country
Flu vaccines are available at your doctor’s office, pharmacy, and urgent care centers near you. Depending on your community, additional options may be available such as drive-through or curbside clinics, mobile outreach units, and home visits. Flu shot locations have safety precautions in place to protect you and health workers from COVID-19. These include mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing.
To find out about flu shot options that are available near you, visit vaccinefinder.org.
Get Involved in Arthritis Research
If you are diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, we encourage you to participate in future studies by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is the first-ever patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.