This originally appeared in the Sept. 10 Des Moines Register.
Want one fewer contagious disease to worry about? Get a flu shot.
Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Maintain physical distance from others. Stay home if you’re sick.
By now everyone is familiar with measures to prevent spreading and contracting the novel coronavirus, which has killed about 190,000 Americans.
Another benefit of those measures: protection against the seasonal flu this fall and winter.
Countries in the temperate Southern Hemisphere, where flu activity typically occurs from April through September, are reporting substantially lower numbers of flu and other respiratory infections this year.
Hygiene and distancing efforts intended to reduce the spread of coronavirus transmission “have likely played a role in reducing influenza virus transmission,” according to an Aug. 31 influenza update from the World Health Organization.
That makes sense. And while we can all hope for similar reduced transmission in the Northern Hemisphere during our flu season, let’s not bet our lives on it. Colder weather will drive people together indoors, where they are more likely to share air and viral particles.
So go ahead and get a seasonal flu vaccine. Then you can worry a little less about contracting another contagious illness.
In fact, flu immunization, which is formulated each year based on predictions about which strains will be circulating, is more important than ever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine has long been pushed as a way to protect your own health and the health of your friends and family. Now it’s also being encouraged as a way to help reduce burdens on health care systems strained by COVID-19 patients.
The CDC estimates about 400,000 people were hospitalized from seasonal flu complications last year. Immunizing more people could help preserve hospital beds, staff and medical resources needed for COVID-19 patients this year.
A flu vaccine is especially important for people who are older and those with underlying health conditions. Of course, these are the same people who are most vulnerable and need to minimize close interactions with others during an infectious disease pandemic.
Those of us avoiding shared indoor spaces should consider an outdoor flu clinic. HyVee pharmacies, for example, are advertising schedules for “drive-up flu shot clinics” at stores through October.
Iowa pharmacies adapted quickly to the pandemic by offering parking lot, curbside, outdoor and drive-up immunization services, said Kate Gainer, executive vice president and CEO of the Iowa Pharmacy Association.
“An IPA member recently shared a story that he gave a flu shot to someone who had never received one before in his life, and he was comfortable receiving it from his pharmacist through the open passenger side car window in the pharmacy’s parking lot,” she said.
Gainer suggested Iowans should check with their local pharmacies and ask about opportunities to receive a flu shot and perhaps also catch up on other immunizations.
A flu vaccine delivered in circulating, outdoor air is a welcome opportunity right about now.
And it will be a critical model to get people safely inoculated when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.