As America awaits a vaccine for the coronavirus, doctors are encouraging the public to obtain a flu vaccination. While there is hope that social distancing measures in place due to the coronavirus will influence a less severe flu season, public health experts are stressing flu vaccinations in an effort to reduce the burden on medical facilities nationwide.
When should you get one?
Flu vaccines are generally widely available now, but some public health experts say waiting until October might not be a bad idea.
Generally, the flu peaks from December into March. There is a fine balance between getting a vaccine too early and too late, experts say. One concern about getting a vaccine too early is the effects of a vaccine could wear off before the end of flu season.
“I usually recommend people get an influenza vaccine in October because we want to make sure that the vaccine lasts for the full duration of the season,” said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “However, if a person can only get a vaccine in September or maybe after October, it is important just to get it whenever they can.”
Likewise, the CDC’s official guidance says that flu vaccines are recommended by the end of October. The agency says that getting a vaccine in July or August “is likely to be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults.” The CDC agrees, however, that there is benefit in getting a vaccine as late as January for those who fail to obtain one before the start of the season.
Where to get a vaccine?
While many doctor’s offices offer flu vaccines, perhaps the easiest place for most Americans is while they’re shopping.
Major retail chains such as Target, CVS and Kroger offer vaccines.
At CVS and Target, customers can book a vaccination appointment by texting “FLU” to 287898. Target and CVS also accepts walk-in appointments. CVS, which also operates pharmacies at Target stores, says that vaccines are generally free with most insurance providers. The cost for those without coverage ranges from $39.99 to $70.
CVS said it expects to administer 18 million vaccines to Americans this flu season. CVS also said that it is taking proper precautions to administer the vaccine to customers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have reduced the number of touchpoints in the process and implemented new guidelines in accordance with the CDC,” a CVS spokesperson said in a statement. “For example, patients will be given a COVID-19 screening questionnaire and have their temperature taken prior to any immunization. They must also wear a face covering or mask (one will be provided, if needed). The pharmacist or MinuteClinic provider administering the immunization will also use personal protection equipment (PPE), including plastic face shields and will utilize enhanced cleaning protocols between patients.”
Kroger said it is also accepting appointments for flu vaccines. For those not wanting to go into a store, Kroger is offering drive thru vaccines, akin to the drive thru coronavirus testing sites. Also at Kroger, flu vaccines are generally free with most insurance providers.
"With so many health facilities already overburdened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for all Americans to get a flu shot," said Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health. "At our COVID-19 drive-thru test sites, we were able to assist thousands of people in getting a test in a short amount of time. By using that model to provide flu shots, we hope to provide more customers with a safe, convenient option to get vaccinated."
Who should get a vaccine?
Vaccines are recommended for most Americans over the age of 6 months. The CDC said that people with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should talk to a doctor before obtaining a vaccine.
For those ages 2 through 49 who are not pregnant, a nasal flu vaccine is an option.
While a flu vaccine does not prevent all infections, last year’s flu vaccine was estimated to prevent 4.4 million illnesses, 2.3 million medical visits, 58,000 hospitalizations, and 3,500 deaths, according to CDC data.