Health officials say it’s time for flu shots & COVID booster

by Kate Evans

It’s almost time for flu season to start and COVID-19 cases are increasing in the area.  Protect yourself and family by getting your annual flu shot soon, public health officials say.  They are recommending getting a COVID-19 vaccination or updated COVID booster shot at the same time as a seasonal flu vaccine.

Flu season can begin as early as October and can last as late as May. Typically, flu season peaks between December and March each year. Health officials are urging everyone six months and older to get their annual seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as possible, especially if they are at high risk for serious flu-related complications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a flu shot by the end of October before flu season begins.

Local report

Medical assistant Becky Huff of River Bend Family Medicine in Hancock said that they haven’t seen any flu cases yet.

COVID-19 cases had decreased but are now rising again in patients.

The practice has seen a lot of influenza-like illness (fever, cough and/or sore throat) and are testing everyone for COVID, Huff said. The tests were all coming back negative, but now that’s changed. Two of their staff members currently have COVID.

River Bend Family Medicine Physician Dr. Matthew Hahn said that they are seeing a resurgence of lots of COVID-19 cases after a couple of weeks of COVID cases slowing down.

Hahn said he had multiple calls over the weekend about patients with COVID. People don’t tend to be very sick, but having COVID still impacts whether you can go to work or school.

There’s also the risk of getting long COVID and the risk of the virus mutating with not enough people being vaccinated against COVID, he noted. A lot of people are coming into his office for flu shots and the updated COVID booster shots.

Dr. Hahn advised people to get their COVID vaccine/booster and flu shots, to wear masks when in a group of people indoors and to continue to be cautious.

Flu & COVID concerns

Health officials are concerned about this flu season potentially being more severe. Australia is just ending its worst flu season in five years, according to news reports.  The flu season in the southern hemisphere oftenmirrors how the flu will go for the northern hemisphere.

Officials worry that as people move daily living indoors that both seasonal influenza and COVID will begin to spread, especially if people don’t wear face masks and don’t get updated COVID booster shots.

COVID boosters

A new updated COVID booster shot is available now that protects against the newer COVID BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants.  To be eligible, a person must have had their last COVID booster at least eight weeks ago.  The CDC recommends that everyone stay up-to-date with the COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots for their age group.

Pneumonia vaccines are also recommended for children and adults of all ages.  Children and people 65 years of age and older are most susceptible to pneumonia.

Flu vaccine

Getting a flu vaccine prevents flu-related complications, missed work and school days and many flu-related hospitalizations and deaths each year.

According to the CDC, getting a flu vaccine is important to protect yourself and those around you from the flu and to help reduce the strain on the healthcare system due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It takes around two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection from the flu. Getting the flu vaccine later in the season can still be beneficial.

Flu, pneumonia and COVID-19 vaccines are available at area pharmacies, health departments and family physician offices.

A high-dose influenza vaccine is recommended for those age 65 and older due to their lower immunity.

Getting a seasonal influenza vaccine each year remains the best way to protect against seasonal influenza and its potentially severe consequences, said CDC officials.

Healthcare providers also remind the public to practice good basic hygiene, like washing hands frequently, staying home when sick, cleaning surfaces regularly and staying in good general health to boost immunity.