Doctors stress flu vaccine especially important during pandemic

Posted on 10/12/20 by Mark Hornbeck

Michiganders, especially those 65 and older, should get a flu vaccine this fall partly because getting infected by a flu virus could put people in a weakened condition to fight off COVID-19, a pair of health care experts said during an AARP Michigan telephone town hall today.

The two physicians also told thousands on the call from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula that the flu vaccine is “extremely safe” and very rarely leads to severe side effects. They made it clear that there is currently no vaccine available for the coronavirus.

Experts on hand were:

  • Dr. Teena Chopra, Professor, Infectious Diseases, Wayne State Univeristy.
  • Dr. Jennifer Edwards Johnson, Family Physician, Lansing area and Community Assistant Dean of the Michigan State University of Human Medicine -- Flint Campus.

“This year, facing the flu and COVID coming together, it’s very important to wear masks, wash your hands, maintain social distance and get your flu vaccine,” Dr. Chopra said.

“And check in with your personal physician,” added Dr. Edwards Johnson.

Questions during the teletown hall included:

I’ve been told there are two different kinds of flu vaccine. Is that so?

Dr. Chopra responded that there is the regular-strength vaccine and a higher dose version for those 65 and older, who are considered more vulnerable to the virus. She said the regular dose works fine for most people.

What’s the difference between flu and coronavirus symptoms?

The two doctors noted that flu and COVID symptoms can be very similar. The most common COVID symptoms are fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches and sore throat. Diarrhea, runny nose, and nausea have been reported, but are less common. Flu infections can present similar symptoms.

“The only way to know is to be tested by your physician,” said Dr. Edwards Johnson.

I have had flu shots in the past. Do I need to get another one?

“You need a flu shot every year because the viruses change,” Dr. Chopra said, She added that if you get a flu vaccine in September, that will be good for the entire flu season. There is no need for a booster shot. It’s important to get the vaccine as soon as possible, she added, don’t wait for a scheduled December physical exam, for example.

I survived a COVID infection last spring. Is it necessary for me to get a flu vaccine?

It’s always a good idea to get a flu shot, Dr. Edwards Johnson said, “because it can prevent an infection and it has very, very mild side effects.”

We have been very careful, due to COVID. We wear masks, we socially distance, and we don’t go to restaurants unless we can sit outside. Do I need to get a flu shot?

“Yes. You never know how and when you can be infected and the flu vaccine is harmless,” Dr. Chopra said.

How about those who have a fear of needles? Is there another way to get the vaccination?

Dr. Chopra said the needles are "very thin, and not as painful as in the past."

Those who participated on the call were asked two survey questions:

Have you already had a flu shot?

45 percent said yes.

If you had not had a flu vaccine has this conversation persuaded you to get one?

58% said yes.

AARP recommends that people follow the guidance of the Center for Disease Control & Prevention as it pertains to vaccines. The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone 65 and older.

AARP has always supported Americans protecting themselves by regularly vaccinating in consultation with their medical professionals. In light of COVID-19, there is an extra emphasis on safety in obtaining the vaccines since many of the traditional places where you could receive one will not be available.

Find information about the flu vaccine here:
Flu Vaccine information

See how Michigan stacks up against other states in vaccination rates for the 65+: Vaccine rates for the 65+

This story is provided by AARP Michigan. Visit the AARP Michigan page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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