An infectious disease expert for Scripps Health reminded San Diegans today to get influenza shots early this season to avoid potentially overloading the region's medical system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"If you normally get the flu shot each year, then now is the time to make arrangements for your vaccination, and if you rarely or never get a shot, then this is the year to start doing it," said Dr. Siu Ming Geary, an internal medicine physician and vice president of primary care for Scripps Clinic Medical Group.
Symptoms for typical seasonal influenza, such as fever, coughing, headache and fatigue, are similar to those for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and both viruses attack the respiratory system. It remains unclear how the two viruses might interact or affect overall sickness when infecting the same person.
"We don't yet know how bad this year's flu season will be, but it is possible to get both the coronavirus and the flu at the same time," Geary said. "Both can result in severe illness and complications, including hospitalization and death. While there is not a readily available vaccine for coronavirus, we do know that being vaccinated for influenza is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from getting the flu."
Last year, 105 people died from the flu in San Diego County, while the virus killed as many as 62,000 nationwide. The 2017-18 season was even worse, with 343 deaths in San Diego County and 79,000 nationwide.
"While some experts may disagree about the optimum timing to receive the flu shot, most, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend getting the shot by the end of October," Geary said. "As for this year, with the coronavirus pandemic still in full swing, it's not too early to get the flu shot right now."
While flu vaccine supplies have sometimes run thin in the past, that shouldn't be the case this year, Geary said. Pharmaceutical companies have produced up to 198 million doses of the vaccine for the U.S. market, a record-setting amount that tops last year's supply by 20 million.
The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months or older, especially those who are at high risk for complications from the flu -- including people 65 years and older, children under the age of 2, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, blood disorders, weakened immune systems and morbid obesity.
This year's vaccine is designed to cover the four strains expected to be the most common in circulation during the 2020-21 influenza season: Influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), influenza B (Victoria) and influenza B (Yamagata).