CHARLESTON — As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, there is concern about the seasonal flu coinciding with the pandemic.
The West Virginia Immunization Network urges West Virginia residents to get a flu vaccine this season.
Flu is a contagious respiratory disease that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Typically, the flu season in the United States runs from fall to late winter with the most flu activity between December and February, but some years continues as late as May.
With the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and similar symptoms between these two contagious illnesses — such as fever, cough, chills, body aches, runny nose, and headache — many are concerned about the impact of the upcoming flu season on communities that are struggling with COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that the flu has caused 140,000-810,000 hospitalizations and 12,000-61,000 deaths in the U.S. each year since 2010. In past seasons, it has been capable of overwhelming healthcare systems on its own.
WIN encourages West Virginians to get their annual flu vaccine to protect themselves from the flu and its consequences. The CDC recommends influenza vaccination for most people six months and older.
This year, influenza vaccination is particularly important for essential workers, such as healthcare, nursing home, and long-term care facility personnel and other members of the critical infrastructure workforce. It is also important for people who are at increased risk for severe illness from the flu or COVID-19 — such as older adults, individuals with certain underlying health problems, and members of certain racial/ethnic minority groups who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 — to receive an annual flu vaccination, especially this year.
Getting a flu vaccine will not protect a patient from getting COVID-19, however, it is effective at preventing influenza, reducing the severity of the flu and preventing hospitalization. In fact, the CDC estimated that during the 2018-2019 flu season, influenza vaccination prevented about 4 million flu illnesses, 58,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and 3,500 deaths.
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations in West Virginia, including doctors’ offices, health departments, pharmacies, community health centers and school-based health clinics, as well as by many employers. Some clinics and pharmacies that offered walk-in vaccination clinics may only be providing vaccinations by appointment-only during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is important to call ahead to find out about any changes.
The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program is a federal program that provides vaccines for children 18 years of age and younger who are uninsured, underinsured, Medicaid-eligible, American Indian, or Alaska Native. For help finding a local healthcare provider who participates in the VFC program, ask your child’s health care provider or contact a local health department.
For adults who do not have insurance or whose health insurance does not cover the flu vaccine, free vaccines will be available at community health centers and local health departments.
For more information about the flu and flu vaccination, talk to your health care provider or visit: www.cdc.gov/flu.
The West Virginia Immunization Network (WIN) is a statewide coalition of more than 400 public and private sector members who work to protect West Virginians from vaccine-preventable diseases. The Center for Rural Health Development, a non-profit organization with the mission of improving the health of West Virginians and strengthening West Virginia’s health care delivery system, serves as the lead agency for WIN.