FALLS CHURCH, Virginia –
If you haven't gotten your annual flu shot yet, is it too late? Absolutely not, experts say. And while Dec. 5-9 was the annual National Influenza Vaccine Week, there is plenty of flu vaccine available. You can still be well-protected with just one shot.
Flu shots are available at your local military hospital or clinic, through TRICARE, at participating pharmacies, and even at temporary flu clinics. The shots are mandated each year for all those in the armed services to help maintain readiness. The mandated deadline for 90% of service members to get their annual flu shots is Jan. 15 each year with some services as early as Dec. 15.
As of Dec. 2, "we are 72% compliant overall," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Katie Martinez, deputy director of operations for the Defense Health Agency Health Care Division. That compares to 68% last year, "so overall we are doing better this year than we have in the previous flu seasons," she said, adding: "I anticipate we will hit 90% compliance by the established deadlines."
The influenza vaccine is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for everyone 6 months of age and older. For people 65 years and older, who are at a higher risk of developing flu-related complications, the CDC recommends a higher dose or adjuvanted flu vaccine. If a higher dose or adjuvanted flu vaccine are not available, please consult with your provider about which flu vaccine is right for you.
The young, those with compromised immune systems or chronic diseases, and the elderly are at risk of serious complications from the flu, so getting them immunized is important.
"Hospitalization rates are higher at this point in the flu season compared to last year," Martinez said, citing figures from the CDC. This is for both those 65 and older and for children up to 4 years old.
So far, there have been 14 pediatric deaths from flu nationwide, which is more at this time than during last year's flu season, she added.
Don't forget your COVID-19 shots
While you're getting your flu shot, you also can get your COVID-19 booster or series at the same time.
While COVID-19 infection rates appear to be trending downward for the moment, it is still important to get your booster, especially the bivalent booster, which came out earlier this fall. They have been shown to protect against the Omicron variant and its subvariants as well as the original form of COVID-19 and the subsequent Delta variant. Omicron and its mutations remain the dominant variants that cause COVID-19.
"Both respiratory diseases are circulating worldwide, and "hospitalization rates are trending higher for the flu this year than the rate observed in week 46 during every previous season since 2010-2011," Martinez said, citing CDC data.
"Flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways, including when they begin, how severe they are, how long they last, which viruses will spread, and whether the viruses in the vaccine match flu viruses that are circulating," the CDC said. All flu vaccines available this year protect against four different circulating flu viruses.
"National Influenza Vaccine Week highlights the need for every eligible person to get their annual flu shot, but also this year, their latest COVID-19 booster or series," said U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Rear Adm. Brandon Taylor, director of Defense Health Agency Public Health.
"It's a reminder to all that flu and COVID-19 are major national public health issues that can affect the youngest to the oldest and the healthiest to those whose immune systems are weakened. He added, "This holiday season, think of others you may be joining for gatherings and be protected from flu and COVID-19, not only for yourself, but also for all your family, colleagues, and friends."
Could it be RSV?
This year, it can also be hard to determine if you have the seasonal flu, COVID-19 or respiratory syncytial virus, since all three are respiratory infections, and RSV numbers are well up from last year in children. All three have similar symptoms, with fever being the most common.
If you want to know for sure, you can check with your healthcare provider. These viruses could become severe in a short span of time, so starting on the right treatment can be important.
Prevention, Prevention, Prevention
Just as with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some simple ways to better protect yourself from getting sick and from spreading your flu or COVID-19:
- Get vaccinated. Vaccines save lives.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces regularly that may be contaminated with these viruses.
- Stay home when you are not feeling well; don't send your kids to school or daycare if they feel ill.
- Talk to your healthcare provider if you begin to feel ill. There are treatments for both flu and COVID-19 that are available if caught quickly enough through testing.
- Limit contact with others when you are sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- When possible, do more activities outdoors where the droplets that spread these diseases are lessened by a large amount of fresh air.