There may not be a vaccine for COVID-19 yet, but there is one for the flu.
With flu season approaching, local health organizations are preparing for flu shot clinics. Health care workers say the pandemic makes minimizing flu infections more important than ever.
“The concern is ... that our health system could be overwhelmed,” said Nicole Moran, chief clinical operations officer for VNA & Hospice of the Southwest Region. “We definitely see an increase in hospitalization during the flu season. The secondary infections, pneumonia, are what typically cause admissions.”
While flu outbreaks don’t usually threaten to overwhelm the health care system, they could aggravate the effect of a winter increase in the COVID-19 infection rate, triggering shortages of hospital beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment.
Moran said there also is a worry that flu season could mask COVID-19 infections because while the symptoms are similar, the flu is not contagious for as long as COVID-19 appears to be.
“If someone goes around thinking they just had the flu, but they had COVID-19, they could be going around infecting people,” she said.
Moran said while the various methods being used to slow the spread of COVID-19 — wearing masks, staying 6-feet apart, frequent hand-washing, avoiding large gatherings — also are effective at slowing the spread of the flu, she still recommended flu shots.
“It is the most effective way to prevent the flu and/or reduce the severity of it,” she said.
Moran said the people who talk about having gotten sick soon after getting a flu shot were likely already infected. She said immunity from the shot does not take effect for two weeks, and that it is impossible to get the flu from the flu vaccine.
“It is possible they have a similar viral infection before getting the vaccine,” she said. “There is an incubation period and you might not be sick yet when you get your shot.”
Ashley Lafirira, long-term care nurse coordinator for Central Vermont Home, Health & Hospice, said the Barre-Montpelier area is seeing similar interest.
“I think there’s definitely more urgency,” she said. “I feel like I’m getting more panicky kinds of calls from people wanting to get their flu shot early.”
CVHHH is sponsoring nine clinics between Sept. 26 and Nov. 10. The full listing is available at cvhhh.org or by calling 224-2299.
In Rutland, the VNA is doing flu shot clinics by appointment only Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, 9 and 16. Go to bit.ly/FLUSIGNMEUP to make appointments. organizations are taking precautions, including screening of patients, sanitizing between patients, and requiring protective equipment for patients and staff. Rutland is staggering appointments, while CVHHH has adjusted its location, relocating several of its clinics to the Barre Auditorium.
Lafirira said it was possible some people who might otherwise get flu shots were avoiding them because they felt there was too much risk in going to a public clinic. She said such a move would be misguided unless someone was going to remain “truly isolated.”
“If they’re going to be exposed (to the flu) at all, and there’s always some risk of exposure, we definitely recommend a flu shot,” he said. “With the protections we’re taking, the risk of getting COVID from one of our clinics is very small.”
What the vaccine won’t do is protect against COVID-19.
“They’re actually different diseases caused by viruses in different families,” Moran said.