Last flu season, over 40,000,000 people in the United States became ill with influenza, also known as the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 400,000 people were hospitalized due to the flu, and 24,000 to 62,000 cases resulted in death. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicates this year's flu season.
What Will the Flu Season Look Like During COVID-19?
Experts are not sure how COVID-19 will affect the current flu season. Different respiratory viruses cause the flu versus COVID-19. However, the symptoms for each are similar. If you become ill, it might be difficult to distinguish between the coronavirus and the flu without testing. And, it is possible to have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.
Symptoms that COVID-19 and the flu share include the following:
- Body aches and pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Typically, you begin to see symptoms of the flu about one day after being infected. COVID-19 symptoms may not show up until about five days after being infected.
Symptoms generally seen with coronavirus infection that do not occur with the flu include:
- Loss of smell
- Loss of taste
Why Do You Need a Flu Shot During COVID-19?
Although the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, getting a flu shot reduces your risk of illness, hospitalization, and even death due to flu viruses. To preserve medical resources at this critical time, it is crucial to minimize your chance of becoming ill and being hospitalized with the flu during this pandemic.
How Can You Protect Yourself From the Flu During COVID-19?
The best way to protect yourself from the flu is by getting a flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone age 6 months and older receive a flu shot every year. Each year, the flu vaccine is formulated differently to match the expected circulating flu virus strains during each flu season. Last year's flu shot will not protect you from this year's flu virus.
What Flu Shots Are Available This Flu Season?
According to the CDC, flu vaccine manufacturers project that they will provide close to 200 million flu shot doses this flu season. Apart from one vaccine, all flu shots this year are quadrivalent. This means that they contain four different strains of flu virus protein. The CDC does not have a recommended preference for any flu vaccine over another if it is indicated for your age.
The trivalent (containing three strains of flu virus protein) vaccine available this season is:
- FLUAD: FLUAD is indicated for adults 65 years and older. It contains an adjuvant, an ingredient that helps your immune system mount a stronger response to the vaccine.
Quadrivalent vaccines grown in eggs include the following:
- Afluria Quadrivalent: Afluria is indicated for ages 6 months and older.
- Fluarix Quadrivalent: Fluarix is indicated for ages 6 months and older.
- FluLaval Quadrivalent: FluLaval is indicated for ages 6 months and older.
- Fluzone Quadrivalent: Fluzone is indicated for ages 6 months and older.
- Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent: Fluzone High-Dose contains four times the amount of flu virus protein as the regular dose vaccines. It is indicated for ages 65 years and older.
- FLUAD Quadrivalent: FLUAD Quadrivalent contains the same adjuvant that the trivalent FLUAD vaccine contains. It is also indicated for ages 65 years and older.
- FluMist Quadrivalent: FluMist is a live attenuated vaccine indicated for children and adults aged 2 through 49 years. FluMist is available as a nasal spray. You should not use FluMist if you have asthma, a compromised immune system, are pregnant, or have taken medication to treat the flu within 48 hours of receiving the vaccine.
Most flu shots are grown in egg culture. Because of this, many people with egg allergies have been reluctant to get a flu shot. This year, two products are available that are not grown in egg culture and are safe to use if you are allergic to eggs.
Vaccines not grown in egg culture include the following:
- Flucelvax Quadrivalent: Flucelvax is grown in animal cells and is indicated for ages 4 years and older.
- Flublok Quadrivalent: Flublok is made by a recombinant procedure that combines genes from flu virus proteins with other virus parts. This vaccine is indicated for ages 18 and older.
Where Can You Get a Flu Shot?
You can get a flu shot in several places, including your doctor's office, your local health department, or at a pharmacy near you. Search on VaccineFinder.org to find nearby vaccination locations. If you do not have health insurance or your insurance does not cover vaccinations, a free Rx savings card can help you save on a flu shot at your local pharmacy.
Remember that the best way to protect yourself against the flu is through vaccination. Be sure to ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider about available flu shots.
Rosanna Sutherby is a freelance medical writer who has been a practicing pharmacist in her community for close to 20 years. She obtained her Doctor of Pharmacy from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She is a certified immunizer and utilizes her clinical training in the pharmacy, where she helps patients manage disease states such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many others. Dr. Sutherby reviews and recommends drug regimens based on patients' concurrent conditions and potential drug interactions.