En español | The latest worry for doctors and health experts across the country is the possibility of a “twindemic” — an overlap between coronavirus outbreaks and flu cases during the upcoming 2020-2021 flu season — that could sicken countless Americans and overburden the nation's health care system.
Older adults in particular are at higher risk of severe illness from both COVID-19 and influenza, which experts say makes getting a flu shot this year — including timing your shot and choosing the right type of vaccine — more important than ever.
Flu shot availability began popping up at pharmacy chains and doctors’ offices this summer, but when it comes to getting the shot, earlier isn't better. “The best time to get vaccinated is from mid-September through the month of October,” says William Schaffner, M.D., medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
That's because the immunity conferred by the flu shot wanes over time, particularly for older adults. Getting vaccinated too soon, for instance, in August, could mean losing protection while the 2020-2021 flu season is still in full swing.
Experts aren't able to predict how long a given flu season will last, but activity typically peaks between December and February and can last as late as May.
Adults 65 and older should ask their health care provider for either the high-dose or adjuvanted flu vaccine, Schaffner says, both of which produce a stronger immune response (and therefore more protection against the flu) in older adults.
This year, the high-dose vaccine is quadrivalent instead of trivalent — meaning it protects against four strains of flu instead of three — and a quadrivalent version of the adjuvanted vaccine will also be available.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), manufacturers are ramping up their flu vaccine production this year, with no significant delays in distribution reported so far.
Some locations that typically offer flu shots, like workplaces, won't be able to this year due to concerns around maintaining coronavirus precautions such as social distancing.
But pharmacies (including national chains like CVS and Walgreens), doctors’ offices and health departments around the country are still offering vaccines, which are typically free with insurance. (Find a location near you with the CDC's VaccineFinder tool.)
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Schaffner says that some medical practices in suburban areas are even planning to host drive-up flu shot clinics, which will allow people to get vaccinated without stepping foot in the office.
Others, he says, have already shifted their scheduling to offer flu shot-only appointments in the morning or late afternoon, which help patients minimize the time they spend inside and around others.
No matter where you go, be prepared to wear a face mask during your appointment and to observe other COVID-related precautions, like getting a temperature check and waiting 6 feet away from other patients.
Schaffner acknowledges that while many people have concerns about visiting a medical facility during the COVID-19 pandemic, there's no question as to the flu vaccine's importance, particularly for older adults — and no other way to get one.
Or, as he puts it, “it's hard to vaccinate via telemedicine.”