Flu season is coming. Why doctors say this year’s vaccine is more important than ever


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ll soon have another enemy to worry about – a familiar foe that’s also extraordinarily lethal.

Every year influenza will kill tens of thousands of people, and hospitalize hundreds of thousands more. Health experts say the 2020 flu vaccine could be more important than ever.

“If you haven’t really been vaccinated every year, this is the year to go. Make sure you don’t miss,” said Dr. Jeff Warren, a member of the Shelby County COVID-19 joint task force.

If you value the opinion of medical experts, the flu vaccine could be one of the best decisions you make all year.

“It’s really critical that we get our vaccination rates up locally,” said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department. “We really don’t know at this point, how the intersection of flu and COVID is going to work. But we do know, if people get flu and COVID, the likelihood that they’re going to be ill is much higher than if they’d had one of those individually.”

The CDC recommends a flu shot for everyone 6 months and older.

Warren has witnessed this firsthand. Long before he won a seat on the Memphis City Council he was practicing family medicine.

“If you get a fever and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, it’s just the flu,’ that’s what we don’t want. We don’t want you to think, ‘Oh, I’ve just got the flu’ and you’ve got COVID,” he said.

Then, your condition gets worse, or you spread it to someone more vulnerable.

As hospitals face the prospect of being overwhelmed with COVID and the flu, Haushalter says there’s no reason to wait on getting vaccinated.

“Once the flu vaccine hits the market, and that’s generally at the end of August, or early September, we encourage people to go ahead and get vaccinated,” she said.

The theory is, the sooner you get it, the sooner you’re protected.

“We do know, that it takes about two weeks to build immunity,” Haushalter said. “We also know that generally in this area, we don’t begin circulating flu until later in the fall, particularly December, January and February.”

According to the CDC, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years. While common side effects include headache, fever, nausea and muscle aches, doctors emphasize the vaccine does not cause the flu.

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