COVID-19 pandemic means flu shots are more important than ever, experts say

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- If you've been doing everything you're being asked to do in the face of the pandemic -- wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, staying at home as much as possible, and practicing social distancing when you're not -- why not do just one more thing?

Infectious disease specialists say if North Carolinians roll up their sleeves and get their flu shot, it will go a long way toward battling both influenza and COVID-19.

"If there was a year when actually getting a vaccine can make a big difference to allowing us to continue to stay open as a community and do it safely, I can't think of a more important year than this year." Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Medical Center, said.

Wolfe noted that unlike social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands, getting a flu vaccine is a one-time thing.

And, like all those COVID-19 precautions, Dr. Wolfe said he planned to get a flu vaccination to not only protect him but members of his community as well.

He said, "I owe them the respect of doing everything I can do to try and keep myself safe. I think that is more important this year with co-circulation of COVID."

And if you need more reasons try these, more people getting flu shots this year could help keep high-demand hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients.

Getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time could make your risk of a prolonged hospital stay or even death much higher. And it could prevent a higher workload for healthcare providers, not to mention the confusion that comes from two viruses with similar symptoms.

"If I can prevent that kind of confusion occurring and I can prevent people from getting sick from a virus that looks like COVID, that just seems to be so far and away the right way to do it," Wolfe said.

So he is asking that we make this the no-excuse year when it comes to the flu vaccine, pointing out, "We're going through so many changes to adjust for COVID and to counteract that and try and stamp it out, why we would let ourselves drop our guard and get sick from something we know how to prevent just doesn't seem sensible to me at all."

By the way, the flu vaccine isn't the only one Dr. Wolfe is getting.

As he pulled up his shirt sleeve he said, "COVID we're underway to having a vaccine. I took my first trial dose actually this week. So we're moving along in vaccine development for COVID."

Dr. Wolfe says all those things we're doing to protect against COVID-19 -- wearing masks, washing hands, and isolation -- also work against the flu.

And, he said, when adding flu shots into the mix, we could see one of the mildest flu seasons in years.
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