As COVID-19 remains top of mind in 2021, influenza — another deadly respiratory virus — remains a concern.
Although a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet widely available, people can protect themselves, the community and the health care system by getting their flu vaccine, said Dr. Heather Eberspacher, medical director of the University Health Center.
“Getting vaccinated against influenza has never been more important,” Eberspacher said. “It may seem like a small action on an individual level, but collectively, it can reduce the number of overall flu cases and their severity, which can make a big difference for hospital capacity.”
Protect our health care system
One reason to get vaccinated is to protect health care workers and the systems they serve
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, there were 38 million symptomatic illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 400,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths during the 2019-20 flu season. Even if the 2020-21 flu season is mild, the addition of the COVID-19 pandemic during a flu surge could be devastating.
Hospitals and other health care facilities are already stressed due to COVID-19, Eberspacher said. In a worst-case scenario, COVID-19 cases could fill health care facilities so that even a mild influenza season could push them past their breaking point. This also doesn’t take into account other conditions that can require health care, including heart attacks, strokes, life-threatening accidents or car crashes.
Getting vaccinated decreases your chances of getting the flu. This has never been more important because having influenza along with COVID-19 can be a deadly combination.
“Both viruses target the respiratory system,” Eberpacher said. “If you were to get both illnesses, it has the potential to cause twice the damage to your lungs and increase the length of time it takes for you to recover. It’s not something you ever want, especially having both simultaneously.”
Influenza also can make a person more susceptible to other infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia. This can lower your immunity, cause lingering respiratory effects and increase your likelihood of contracting COVID-19 if you come into contact with a carrier.
If you haven’t received your flu vaccine yet, it’s not too late, Eberspacher said.
The University Health Center offers free flu shots for students. Faculty and staff can get vaccinated at the health center for $35, which can be submitted to insurance. To schedule a flu shot appointment, call 402-472-5000.
“The flu vaccine is a safe, easy and affordable way to make a difference in our community right now,” Eberspacher said. “My hope is that everyone will do their part and get vaccinated.”