The University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus is again offering free flu shots this season. The flu vaccine is a proven way to prevent or reduce the symptoms of influenza (flu), a serious respiratory disease that killed nearly 1,000 people in Maryland last year and sickened 74,000.
The COVID-19 pandemic makes flu shots even more vital this year, as we face the prospect of two potentially deadly respiratory diseases at the same time. Flu and COVID-19 are both spread from person to person and have similar symptoms and effects, but are caused by different viruses. We’re still waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, but the flu vaccine is ready to go.
Flu shots are one way to reduce the chance you’ll get the flu and possibly end up in the hospital or die of flu. To be clear, the flu vaccine will not protect against the virus that causes COVID-19. However, flu prevention may help save medical resources to care for a rise in the number of COVID-19 patients that experts predict will come with colder weather.
Annual flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone age six months and older. A flu shot is needed every year because there are many different flu viruses and they change from year to year. The flu vaccines protect against the three or four most common flu viruses that research suggests will be widespread this year in the United States.
Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after a flu shot before your immune system is ready to protect you against the flu. Flu season usually peaks between December and February, but since we’re also dealing with the unknowns of COVID-19, it’s hard to predict whether this will be a normal flu season. So, the earlier you get your flu shot, the better.
Also, it’s possible to have flu or other respiratory illnesses as well as COVID- 19 at the same time. We’re still learning about COVID-19, so we don’t fully know what could happen if you get both. But we do know that flu and COVID happening at the same time could mean bigger problems than we’ve had with COVID alone. Take charge of your health now, by attending Free Flu Shot Friday in October.
Jeffrey Gerbino, MD, is an internal medicine specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus