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What to know about flu and COVID-19 vaccines

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Crisp fall weather and upcoming holiday months are joyful times, but illnesses like the flu and COVID-19 can put a damper on high spirits. Runny noses, coughing and hospitalizations are not something people want to deal with when preparing a Thanksgiving turkey or shopping for the perfect holiday gifts. Being prepared and proactive for winter viruses should be on everyone’s holiday to-do list. 

It’s no secret vaccines are currently a hot topic of conversation, which is why it’s important to understand the reason behind recommended shots. Vaccines help the immune system fight infections faster and more effectively. When a vaccine is received, it sparks a natural immune response, helping the body fight off and remember the germ so it can attack it if the virus invades again. The immune system is a cookbook full of recipes to fight off viruses. 

While influenza, or the flu, viruses can happen year-round in the United States, it’s most commonly reported during the fall and winter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the exact timing and duration of flu seasons vary, but flu activity often begins to increase in October. Typically, flu activity peaks between December and February, but can go as late as May.  

The flu is a common winter illness that is an extremely contagious respiratory virus that spreads through the body attacking the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. People with the flu will have symptoms of fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea. 

The flu virus is spread from person to person, through coughing, sneezing and even talking. It can easily sweep through large groups of people who spend time together in close quarters, such as daycare facilities, classrooms, college dorms, offices, nursing homes and more. 

Even though the flu has become a more common illness, it’s nothing to turn your back on because serious, high-risk flu-related complications can occur. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 36,000 people die annually from the flu.

Because the flu virus poses such a threat, yearly vaccines are available. The most effective way to prevent the flu is to receive the vaccine every year. Helping slow the spread of germs by handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes are also recommended. The CDC reported that 55% of adults in the United States received the flu vaccine during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. 

Unfortunately, the flu isn’t the only virus people need to worry about this fall and winter. COVID-19 continues to spread and replicate across the world infecting millions of people. COVID-19 is a disease caused by the virus called SARS-CoV-2 that can cause mild to severe symptoms, such as fever or chills, cough, fatigue, loss of taste and smell, muscle or body aches, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, sore throat, congestion or runny nose and more. 

Like the flu, COVID-19 is spread from person to person, through coughing, sneezing and even talking. When a person coughs or sneezes, spray droplets can travel as far as 6 feet away. While some people don’t show symptoms of COVID-19, they can still spread the virus.

According to the CDC, 43 million people in the United States have been infected by the virus, and there have been more than 690,000 deaths since Jan. 21, 2020. However, 55.6% have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 vaccine not only helps prevent people from getting the virus, or from becoming seriously ill or dying, but also prevents the virus from spreading and replicating. COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use in the United States help protect people against the virus.

COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are available for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine recipients who completed their two shots at least six months ago. Those eligible include people 65 years and older, people in long-term care facilities, people 18 to 64 years of age with underlying conditions and those 18-64 years of age who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposures and transmission due to occupation or institutional setting, such as medical workers, teachers and first responders. A booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine can be administered to adults 18 years and older at least eight weeks after completion of the initial dose.

Symptoms from both viruses are similar and can be difficult to differentiate between the two. It is important to be tested when symptoms occur, especially since it’s possible to have both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could result in a serious health concern. 

Following the recommended vaccine schedule, both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines are safe to be given at the same visit. It is best to receive both vaccines as the flu vaccine is made to protect against the flu virus and the COVID-19 vaccine is made for the COVID-19 virus. Those six months and older are eligible for the annual flu vaccine at this time and everyone 5 years of age and older is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Everyone gets sick, but taking the flu and COVID-19 vaccines is important this fall and winter because both viruses are spreading in the United States at the same time. The vaccines can offer peace of mind for not only oneself but for loved ones. 

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