Flu season begins during COVID: Q&A with Dr. Jennifer Vines


6 questions about what you should do, expect

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the flu season begins while the coronavirus pandemic continues, Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines answered 6 questions about the flu, flu vaccines and what you should do.

Also Tuesday, Kaiser Permanente Northwest announced several new drive-thru clinics will open Saturday. The healthcare giant said the drive-thru and walk-up flu shot clinics start October 3 and run through October 31. Anyone planning to be vaccinated is required to bring a photo ID and member ID. Kaiser said masks are required for vaccination and it is recommended to wear a short sleeve shirt for easy access to your upper arm.

See a full list of locations here

6 Questions with Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines

Jennifer Vines, MD, lead health officer for the tri-county region (multco.us)
  1. Should you get a flu vaccine?
    The short answer is “yes.” You should still definitely get a flu shot. The reason is that it’s true that staying away from others keeping to yourself, wearing a mask, washing hands, are good ways to prevent lots of spread of germs including the flu, but we want to use every tool in our tool kit this fall and winter — which is considered respiratory season. The best way to prevent influenza is by getting a flu vaccine and that’s recommended for everyone age six months and older.    
  2. Even if I think I’m still social distancing, should I still get a flu shot?  
    Correct, the goal is to just lower the spread of respiratory viruses in our community this winter. Everybody’s waiting to hear about a COVID vaccine and here we have the influenza vaccine tried and true–and it’s good to get it every year–but especially this year when we’re heading into so much uncertainty of how quickly it might play out over the winter. 
  3. Is there a concern hospitals could be overwhelmed with flu and COVID patients?  
    I think there’s that possibility we have had difficult flu seasons before that have actually stressed our health care system capacity. I think we’ve done a lot of work since then in preparation for COVID to expand that capacity and expand it quickly. But, the bottom line is, we want people to be healthy, we don’t want them in our hospitals, we want to protect those who are fragile and there’s a lot of overlap between COVID and influenza in terms of who’s at risk. … We’re serious when we say everyone and six months and over should get it … especially young children, the elderly and people with underlying conditions.  
  4. Is anything different about the flu vaccine this year because of COVID?  
    No, to my knowledge it’s what the global and national public health authorities consider the best match to what we think are going to be the flu strains circulating this year. That’s based on a lot of information in seeing how the flu season plays out in the southern hemisphere and then formulating a flu vaccine that we hope is a good match.  
  5. What’s the difference between the flu and COVID? What are symptoms people should look out for?  
    The symptoms are very similar. Flu is fever, with sore throat or cough, very similar to COVID. Both have kind of the fatigue, the ache kinds of symptoms and both have a full spectrum of very mild to no symptoms to you know, really serious illness landing people in the hospital.
  6. Can you get both the flu and COVID at the same time?  
    There are documented cases of people having both at the same time. That happened towards sort of the beginning of our COVID and towards the end of the big wave in China and other places. So, I don’t think we have really good data to say exactly what can happen, but certainly you don’t want to be fighting two infections at the same time and we have a vaccine to prevent one and we have face coverings and physical distancing to protect against the other. 

Dr. Vines added that anybody who wants can call 211 for information about how to get a vaccine or they can go to vaccinefinder.org and the best time to get it is really before the end of October.

Additional Flu Information

Flu vaccinations can reduce the risk of hospitalization by 40% in adults, according to Kaiser. Additionally, studies from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention show vaccination can reduce the risk of flu illness between 40% and 60% when the vaccines are well-matched against the viruses.

Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and tend to come on suddenly. Flu-related illness can range from mild to severe, and in some cases may require hospitalization. Here are flu symptoms to look out for: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue. Less common symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea.

“Flu is a deadly disease that drives hospitalizations, but with simple measures like getting your flu shot we can prevent hospital bed shortages and protect people from a potentially fatal disease,” Kaiser said in a release Tuesday. “We are trying to create ‘community immunity.’ If enough people are vaccinated it will help.”

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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