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Flu vaccine essential during COVID-19 pandemic

By Macy Hinds | Naval Health Clinic Hawaii | Sept. 16, 2020

NAVAL HEALTH CLINIC HAWAII, Hawaii —

Influenza, or flu, season is upon us. In the United States, flu season lasts through the fall and winter. While influenza viruses circulate year-round, most flu activity peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May.

Not only are we entering flu season, but we are also in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, further stressing the importance of the flu vaccine. The vaccine could help reduce the overall impact of contagious respiratory illnesses on the population and decrease the burden on the health care system during the overlapping flu season and COVID-19 pandemic.

While the COVID-19 and influenza viruses are different, symptoms of the two can look the same, making it difficult to differentiate between them based on symptoms alone.

“Both can cause high fevers, body aches and headaches. COVID is more likely to cause a cough and shortness of breath, but those symptoms could also occur with influenza," said Navy Capt. Lisa Pearse, Navy Region Hawaii Public Health Emergency Officer from Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Pearl Harbor. "Lab testing may be required to tell them apart. One specific difference is that only COVID causes a loss of smell or taste.”

While there is no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, the flu shot can help reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization and death from an influenza infection.,

“The very best thing you can do to prevent influenza is to get your flu shot,” Pearse emphasized.

You may have options when it comes to where and when you can get your flu shot.

For TRICARE beneficiaries who want to get a flu vaccine before it is available at the clinic, they can use a TRICARE network participating pharmacy at no cost. Visit www.tricare.mil/flu to learn about TRICARE coverage and the flu vaccine. Keep in mind, you should always get a record of your vaccines if you receive them outside of the military treatment facility. You will need to share the information with your primary care provider or immunizations clinic to keep your vaccination records current.

It is important to remember that immunizations clinics may currently look different during the pandemic. Take into account any changes to hours of operations, services, safety precautions and entry requirements at your local military treatment facility when planning to visit the immunizations clinic for your flu vaccine.

For the safety of healthcare personnel and other patients, don’t forget your mask. If you are someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, postpone your visit to the immunizations clinic, regardless of whether you have symptoms. Come back another time once you have met the criteria to discontinue your isolation.

It’s uncertain what COVID-19 coupled with flu season will look like this year. However, there are preventative steps you can take to help protect yourself and your family while reducing the burden on healthcare resources.

In addition to getting your flu vaccine, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recommends staying home when you are sick, covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, cleaning your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and preserve a strong immune system by getting plenty of sleep, staying active, managing your stress, drinking fluids, and eating nutritious foods. These everyday actions combined with the vaccine can help slow the spread of contagious respiratory illnesses and prepare us for a joint COVID-19 and flu season to come.