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Oct. 13—By Keith Rawls
Flu season is around the corner, and September and October are considered the optimal times for everyone six months and older to receive the seasonal flu vaccine. Over the past 60 years, hundreds of millions of people have safely received the seasonal flu shot and prevented millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor visits each year.
During the 2019-2020 flu season, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 7.5 million illnesses, 3.7 million medical visits, 105,000 hospitalizations, and 6,300 deaths. In addition, a 2021 study shows that among adults, flu vaccination was associated with a 26% lower risk of ICU admission and a 31% lower risk of death from flu compared to those who were unvaccinated.
Each year, illnesses caused by influenza disrupt Boulder County's businesses and education systems. The CDC Foundation estimates that the flu costs the U.S. more than $87 billion annually. The flu causes an estimated 111 million missed workdays, more than 38 million missed days of school, and five million missed youth sporting events each year.
While the flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has several variants, including Delta, causes the COVID-19 illness. The seasonal flu is caused by one of several influenza viruses such as A(H1N1), A(H3N2), or an Influenza B virus. You can be infected with both a flu virus and SARS-CoV-2 simultaneously, and the symptoms may be similar. If you feel unwell, stay home, talk to your health care provider, and, if necessary, get tested as soon as possible to determine the cause of your illness.
The influenza viruses evolve every year and each year scientists develop a new vaccine tailored to the most prevalent three or four flu virus strains anticipated for the upcoming flu season. For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend every individual six months and older receive a flu vaccine each flu season, such as once every year. Boulder County Public Health recommends all individuals six months and older should receive a flu vaccine each year.
While flu vaccines are not designed for protection against COVID-19 and, likewise, the COVID-19 vaccine is not designed to protect against flu, recent research shows that children who receive a seasonal flu shot are less likely to suffer symptoms from a COVID-19 infection. You can receive the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time safely and effectively: our bodies develop the same levels of protection regardless of whether they were given alone or with other vaccines. If you have concerns about getting both vaccines simultaneously, speak with your health care provider.
Flu vaccines protect your body against infection by teaching your body develop antibodies to several of the flu viruses. Because it takes time for your body to develop antibodies, the flu vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective. Like the COVID-19 vaccine cannot give you COVID-19, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu because the viruses in the shot have been inactivated and cannot be infectious. Side effects are uncommon, but when they do occur, they are typically mild and include soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling where the shot is given, and low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches may occur.
You can get your flu shot in most doctor's offices, clinics, health departments and pharmacies.
Boulder County Public Health's Vaccines for Children program gives flu vaccines to eligible people on Monday and Wednesday. The flu vaccine is free for children under 19 years old who are uninsured, underinsured, have Medicaid, or are American Indian/Alaskan Native. A limited number of shots are available for uninsured adults. No ID is required to get vaccinated, and fees are waived for anyone who cannot afford them, no question asked. Appointments can be made online at www.bouldercountyshots.org or by calling 303-413-7799.
Keith Rawls is the Immunization Program Coordinator for Boulder County Public Health