Demand for flu shots is up. Why that’s important during COVID surge

Denisea Mount, a Nurse Practitioner, at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS on Far Hills Ave. gives a flu shot Friday to patient Tracy Young. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
Denisea Mount, a Nurse Practitioner, at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS on Far Hills Ave. gives a flu shot Friday to patient Tracy Young. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Health care professionals: get your flu shot now

National pharmacies are reporting big increases in the number of flu shots administered, an encouraging sign as Miami Valley health experts stress the need to prevent a widespread influenza outbreak amid a big surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations.

More than 3,000 COVID-19 patients are in Ohio hospitals currently, over 800 more than a week ago, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

“There’s so much COVID in the community, that the hospitals are busier than they’ve ever been,” said Dr. Glen Solomon, professor and chairman of internal medicine and neurology at Wright State University. “Anything that you can do to keep people healthy and keep them out of the need for health care is enormously important right now ... If you have a large number of people sick with COVID and on top of that you have a large number of people sick with influenza, that really strains the health care system tremendously.”

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Flu season in Ohio begins in October and lasts through May, with cases usually beginning to rise more steeply after Thanksgiving. The peak of flu season cases in Ohio varies from year to year but usually occurs sometime between December and February.

“We are headed into the trifecta of COVID, influenza and the common cold, three viruses that have very similar signs and symptoms, moving from one that’s just annoying to another two that can kill you,” said Dr. Gary LeRoy, associate dean at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and former president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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The annual flu vaccine ranges in effectiveness usually from 40% to 60%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu viruses are constantly changing. Researchers around the world monitor influenza year-round to update the vaccine.

Dr. Thomas Hirt, a physician at PriMED Centerville Family Practice, said getting a flu shot is the No. 1 preventative measure you can take.

“Because the flu and coronavirus have some similarities, it could be devastating for people to become sick with both at the same time,” he said.

It appears people are heeding experts' advice and getting their flu shots this year.

CVS pharmacies and MinuteClinics have already administered more flu shots nationally this flu season than the chain did during the entirety of last season, according to an emailed statement from CVS Health.

“We are prepared to administer 18 million flu shots this flu season, which is twice last season,” the statement says.

A spokeswoman for Walgreens said the pharmacy chain has seen increased customer demand this year and has already given out 60% more flu vaccines this flu season compared to the same time last year.

Besides retail pharmacies, doctor’s offices and urgent cares — where flu vaccines are free with most insurance plans — Montgomery and Miami counties' health departments provide vaccines by appointment for free or low costs. Locations administering flu shots can be found at vaccinefinder.org.

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Some common myths prevent people from getting a flu vaccine, Hirt said. Contrary to a rumor circulating recently, he said, a flu vaccine cannot increase your risk for contracting COVID-19. And you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine, he explained. There is no live virus in the flu vaccine. The shot takes two weeks to work so sometimes there is a misconception that an illness that presents in that time was caused by the vaccine, he explained.

“The flu vaccine is safe,” he said. “The most dangerous part of getting a flu vaccine is driving to the doctor’s office to get it.”

Flu hospitalizations in Ohio by season

2014-2015: 9,374

2015-2016: 3,691

2016-2017: 8,661

2017-2018: 17,397

2018-2019: 9,865

2019-2020: 11,005

Source: Ohio Department of Health

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