COVID-19 complicates annual flu season

Here’s a list of a few things you should know about the influenza virus and vaccine


Flu season will be upon us in the coming months. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university is requiring all students to get a flu shot (Mario Tama/TNS)

Maggie Burns, Science & Technology Editor

In the midst of a global pandemic, especially one with the amount of uncertainty COVID-19 has brought with it, there are few phrases scarier than “flu season.” As temperatures drop and the season changes, the flu will soon begin to spread as it always does this time of year. Both COVID-19 and influenza are respiratory diseases, so one has the ability to exacerbate the symptoms of the other. 

The flu, as we know it, is caused by influenza viruses that can infect your nose, throat and lungs on some occasions. The severity of the flu can range anywhere from mild to deadly, much like COVID-19. 

It is also like COVID-19 in the way that it spreads; the flu spreads through droplets, and can be transmitted during activities like talking, exercising, coughing or sneezing. The similarities of the transmission between the two viruses, although alarming, allows you to be protected from them in the same way; washing your hands, wearing a mask and social distancing. 

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself against the flu — and possible COVID-19 complications if you end up with both — is to get vaccinated. Here are a few things you should know about the flu vaccine and why it’s so important:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a flu vaccine in September or October, so you’re fully protected throughout the entire flu season; but getting one at any time in the fall and winter can still be helpful.

The flu vaccine will not give you the flu. According to the CDC, the version of the vaccine administered with a needle contains either an inactive version of the virus or one with only a single protein from the virus. The nasal spray version contains strains of the virus that are weakened, so they will not cause you to become infected either. 

The vaccine given this year will protect you against three or four strains of the influenza virus that are expected to circulate this season, according to the Mayo Clinic. Both Mayo Clinic and CDC recommend that everyone six months or older get vaccinated for influenza. Although, if you have any known allergies to the ingredients in the vaccine or you are not feeling well, you should talk to your physician before being vaccinated. 

The Mayo Clinic also explains that, even if you were vaccinated last year, you should still get vaccinated this year as well. The influenza virus changes and mutates rapidly enough that last year’s vaccine may not be efficacious with this year’s flu. 

It is still essential that you continue to follow COVID-19 guidelines in order to prevent it from spreading further; practices such as social distancing, wearing a mask and frequently washing your hands will prevent the spread of both COVID-19 and influenza. 

If you’re worried about going into a pharmacy or doctor’s office to get the flu vaccine, rest assured that the CDC has released guidelines for administering the flu vaccine safely to patients. These guidelines can be found on the CDC website and will continually be updated as the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season both progress. 

Chronic illnesses — such as asthma, cancer, COPD, diabetes and obesity —can increase your risk of complications with the flu virus, Mayo Clinic says. So for people with these illnesses, it is even more important to get vaccinated for the flu and protect against complications. 

Here in Winston-Salem, you can get a flu shot at most pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and the pharmacy in Publix. You can also go to health departments or Student Health Services to get your vaccination. When going somewhere to get a flu shot, it is still important to wear a mask and wash your hands thoroughly before and after you leave. 

“The answer to the question ‘Why should you get a flu vaccine?’ is the same this year as it is every year. But there are some additional reasons why it’s extra beneficial to get [it] this year,” says Emily Landon, executive medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago Medicine in an interview with Scientific American.

The CDC explains on their website that now more than ever it is extremely important to stop the spread of respiratory illnesses, such as the flu, this fall and winter season.

While there is presently some contention around the efficacy of vaccines and whether or not they should be trusted, it is undeniable that scientists and experts praise the vaccine for influenza. It has proved effective for years now, and is a surefire way to prevent illness and death from the flu. Across the board, experts recommend getting vaccinated and agree that it is one of the most crucial steps in preventing not only the flu but also further complications from COVID-19. As always, continue to be vigilant and safe, and wear your mask.