While we are still waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, there are other ways to help protect yourself and your community during the pandemic. As with every year, flu season is quickly approaching, which means it’s time to start getting flu shots. Now more than ever, the flu vaccine can make a big difference in the overall health of the community, especially if someone has already had to deal with something like COVID-19.

“It’s very important for people to get a flu shot this year because of the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Richard Scott, deputy division director of Health and Human Services. “When a person is ill with a respiratory virus, it weakens their immune system, increasing the chance they could become ill with another illness, including COVID-19.”

And vice a versa, as well. While the two have similar symptoms, they are two separate viruses. Getting sick with one can be rough, but the bigger problem can be what happens after. Since it takes some time to recover after an illness, getting sick a second time has a chance to be very damaging, especially if that illness is the flu or similar. Developing pneumonia is just one example of a complication that could happen.

“Having both COVID-19 and influenza could lead to a complicated illness and a challenging recovering,” said Scott.

Complications after the fact aren’t the only concern, either. While many hospitals and ICUs in Carver County have handled the pandemic extremely well, a sudden spike in need could overwhelm the system. The flu shot would help prevent this, since it lessens the spread. Even without COVID-19, it’s always been important to reduce the spread of the flu.

“It’s always very concerning when someone has been ill with a viral or bacterial infection, and then becomes ill again,” Scott said. “Regardless of any long-term COVID-19 damage, we worry about the person’s immune system and their ability to recover from a second infection.”

To help everyone get their flu shots this year, the CDC has been working with manufacturers to make extra vaccines, according to Scott. The plan is there will be plenty of supply for people to get their flu vaccines before the holidays begin in November. The earlier, the better.

There are still a few concerns going forward, though. One is whether people will be hesitant to go receive a flu vaccine due to the concern of going to the doctor, especially since the vaccine isn’t completely effective. However, it’s important to note that getting your flu shot would still be better than not.

“Although flu vaccine is not 100% effective, it is the best tool we have to prevent flu,” said Scott. “If someone who has received the flu vaccine does become ill with flu, their likelihood of having a less severe illness and avoiding hospital care is greatly increased.”

If you are worried about visiting your local hospital due to the pandemic, though, there are plenty of options. Most clinics and pharmacies throughout Minnesota offer flu vaccines, with most forms of insurance covering the shot in full. For those without insurance or it can’t be covered, there are other options. Contacting Carver County Public Health via phone at 952-361-1329 is one way to get a flu vaccine. The county also puts on vaccine clinics on the second and fourth Monday of each month. Visit www.co.carver.mn.us/immunizations to see what the requirements are and when the next clinics are.

Now, say you start showing flu symptoms, which are very similar to COVID-19 symptoms. The good news is, there are ways to get a flu test through your local provider. If positive, there are antivirals available to lessen the symptoms and help combat the flu while you have it. If you test positive for COVID-19, procedure is what we’ve already been doing; stay home if possible, hospital stay if needed, then isolate for two weeks.

To find your nearest pharmacy or clinic that provides the flu shot, visit www.vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine. To find out when the next Carver County vaccine clinic takes place, visit www.co.carver.mn.us/immunizations.

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