As influenza season approaches amid the COVID-19 pandemic, health professionals are recommending that everyone, especially students, get their annual flu shot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone get the flu vaccination this year, as it will help reduce the overall impact of respiratory illnesses on the population. This will also reduce the burden on the healthcare system, which is currently overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.
Receiving the flu vaccine this year may also keep individuals from having to quarantine due to the similarities between flu and COVID-19 symptoms.
“If someone has the flu this winter, they’re going to display some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and we’re going to expect them to quarantine because we don’t know if you have COVID-19 or not,” said Anthony Fehr, an assistant professor of molecular biosciences from the University of Kansas.
Fehr researches coronaviruses in his lab and teaches courses about virology to undergraduate and graduate students.
“Both [viruses] cause you to have high temperatures; both of them can cause coughing and sneezing,” Fehr said. “The coronavirus causes a bit more of a dry cough. Overall, they have very similar disease outcomes.”
Due to these similarities, it will be difficult to know which one an individual is actually infected with, and many precautions will have to be put in place.
“It’s going to be disruptive to your life if you get sick [with the flu],” said Dr. Pavika Saripalli, chief of staff at Watkins Health Center. “The other issue is if you have COVID-19 and you get influenza before your body has fully recovered from COVID-19, the influenza will hit you particularly hard, and you may have more of a risk for bronchitis or pneumonia because your lungs haven’t fully healed back again.”
If a student believes they are sick with the flu, they can go to Watkins, where they’ll be treated with the same methods used in previous years. But there's one exception — students will likely be tested for both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, Saripalli said.
“The more people that get vaccinated, the more clarity there is when you have to determine if an outbreak is from the flu or COVID-19,” Fehr said. “As soon as the flu shot comes out, I would highly advise getting it as soon as possible.”
In the past, Watkins provided flu shots to students both in the clinic and at off-site clinics around campus. Because of difficulties with social distancing, flu shots will only be provided to students inside of the clinic.
“We’re going to have a combination of appointments and walk-ins, and we’re probably going to set aside just an area for getting flu shots, because we’re anticipating that we will probably have more people asking for them this year than usual,” Saripalli said.
Watkins is currently waiting for a shipment of 500 flu shots to be delivered later this month. Once it arrives, an announcement will be made on their website and social media to let students know the vaccine is available.