This year is different than any other year in many ways; one being the higher importance of a flu vaccine. Flu vaccine, commonly called flu shot, is used to prevent illness from the flu and varies from season to season. As with any illness, every patient case is different, and the effectiveness fluctuates for several reasons. These reasons include the patient’s age, overall health and exposure to certain flu types. The exact effectiveness of a flu vaccine is difficult to determine since there are so many variables. Although most major public health establishments, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), believe that this vaccine significantly lessens flu burden on the United States population.
According to the CDC, 45% of adults in the United States received a flu shot in 2019. Even with these preventive measures, roughly 37,000 people have died from this illness every year since 2010. Flu could be more damaging than ever this year because a major flu season would have a large effect on the healthcare system, such as hospital availability of beds and resources while facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the precautions for COVID-19 and flu are similar. Wearing a mask and social distancing will also stop the spread of flu this season. Although the best protection is to get a flu vaccine to minimize your own risk, as well as those in your community. For those who are at risk for any respiratory illness, vaccination is even more important. The patients are not recommended to get a flu shot if they currently have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
Both illnesses attack the respiratory system. COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while flu is from an influenza virus infection. There is still much unknown about COVID-19. From what is known, it seems that it is possible to have both at the same time since there is no reason why a patient cannot get two respiratory illnesses at the same time. Although the commonality of COVID-19 and flu simultaneously is unknown. According to the CDC, previously having COVID-19 or flu does not protect an individual from future illnesses of that virus.
With the possibility of two illnesses this season, it is important to know the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and flu. Both contagious respiratory illnesses can present very differently in patients, ranging from asymptomatic to severe, even fatal. With both of these illnesses, patients can experience fever, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headaches and nasal discharge. COVID-19 can present the above symptoms in a more severe manner in some people and it can spread more easily. Individuals tend to show symptoms for a longer period of time and can be contagious for longer as well. Additionally, change in or taste and/or smell is unique to COVID-19 compared to influenza. In contrast, symptoms that are distinctive to the flu are seizures, persistent dizziness, confusion and severe weakness. Diagnostic testing and speaking with a physician are the best way to differentiate between these two illnesses.
Currently the CDC is developing diagnostic tests aiming to identify the seasonal flu as well as COVID-19. These tests will identify A and B type influenza viruses, as well as SARS-CoV-2. They have already been sent out to public health laboratories as early as August 2020. The ability to test for both of these illnesses will help evaluate how they are spreading and are crucial for making a prevention plan. This also reduces testing materials and time, which hopefully translates to individuals receiving results quicker. This test meant to highlight public health and virus spread patterns. These tests are not meant to replace COVID-19 tests, which are being used in hospitals and healthcare settings to evaluate individual patients.
Flu virus strains are always changing. Thus, vaccines must be reviewed annually to accurately match circulating strains. Flu vaccines aim to protect against what research finds to be the three or four most common viruses, depending on the vaccine type.
This season’s prominent viruses for the trivalent (three-component) egg-based vaccines are: A/Guangdong-Maonan/SWL1536/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated), A/Hong Kong/2671/2019 (H3N2)-like virus (updated), and B/Washington/02/2019 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus (updated). This type of vaccine is often used for individuals who are 65 years and older. The quadrivalent (four-component) egg-based vaccines contain the three recommended viruses above, plus B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (Yamagata lineage) virus. This is the most common vaccine and widely produced. Lastly, the cell- or recombinant-based vaccines contain A/Hawaii/70/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated), A/Hong Kong/45/2019 (H3N2)-like virus (updated), B/Washington/02/2019 (B/Victoria `)-like virus (updated), and B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (Yamagata lineage) virus for the 2020-2021 season.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, flu vaccine manufactures have not reported any delays in production or distribution for this season. Last year, a record of 175 million doses were produced for distribution. For the 2020-2021 season, manufacturers have produced 194-198 million doses. Additionally, since 2004, the CDC purchases late-season flu vaccines to stockpile. This prevents a shortage, in case of a demand surge that could occur in December and January.
This year the importance of a flu shot is greater than ever, in order to protect yourself and your community. You can start by visiting thehttps://vaccinefinder.org to find a vaccine location near you.
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