Health experts encourage vaccinations as flu season and COVID-19 pandemic collide for second year

Posted at 2:50 PM, Oct 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-01 17:42:01-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Every year flu season sends thousands of Americans to the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year’s flu season was mild compared to previous years due to heightened health precautions used because of the COVID-19 pandemic, like masks and social distancing.

The CDC estimates 400,000 people were hospitalized with influenza in 2020, while approximately 22,000 died.

Baptist Health internal medicine and pediatrics Dr. Jai Gilliam said the nation would likely experience a jump in flu cases this year.

“Because social distancing has decreased and people have taken off their masks, we’re going to see the flu,” Dr. Gilliam said.

This is the second year flu season collides with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are beginning to plateau, health officials worry flu season may overwhelm hospital systems still strained by the Delta surge.

Dr. Gilliam urges people to get their flu shot to help reduce severe influenza cases and keep hospital beds open as the flu season progresses and the nation continues to battle the pandemic.

“Vaccines are a mighty tool for this pandemic and any illnesses we’re trying to combat against,” Dr. Gilliam said. “If you get a flu shot, that is one less thing to worry about during this whole pandemic.”

The flu and coronavirus share many similar symptoms, including fever, fatigue, body aches, coughing, and more.

Since many symptoms overlap, Dr. Gilliam said it could be challenging to discern what infection a person has without testing.

“I can’t overemphasize, if you’re not feeling well, if you have some viral symptoms or just concerns that you may have COVID-19, please get seen and evaluated,” he said. “If death is on the line, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

It is possible to have both influenza and coronavirus at the same time, according to the CDC.

Research shows survival rates for both viruses dramatically increase with vaccinations.

The CDC says it is safe to get a COVID-19 and flu shot at the same time.

Many pharmacies and medical providers offer the option of receiving both shots in one visit.