ATLANTA - For those on the fence about getting a flu shot, pediatrician and WebMD medical editor Dr. Hansa Bhargava said this year the vaccine might be needed more than ever.
"I think there has been some reluctance in the last few years, but a physician, as a mom myself, I can't tell you how important it is to get it," Dr. Bhargava said. "It could be a perfect storm, with flu and COVID going on at the same time."
Bhargava said the novel coronavirus and seasonal flu viruses are both respiratory diseases that share some similar symptoms.
"So, say you got a fever and cough and a runny nose and sore throat," she said. "Those are some of the same symptoms, where you could have coronavirus, too. So, you don't want to be in the situation of trying to figure out what you have."
U.S. public health officials will be launching a major campaign to urge Americans to get vaccinated against seasonal flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone 6 months of age or older to get vaccinated against the flu.
In 2018, only about two-thirds of American children and less than half of adults got a flu shot, which, last flu season, was about 45% effective.
"I think it's important for people to realize that flu is a tough virus," Bhargava says. "It can last for weeks. But, especially now, it's important to realize it causes over 400,000 hospitalizations per year."
She is concerned hospitals already strained by the coronavirus could be overwhelmed by a major surge in flu infections.
The pandemic could also complicate vaccine drives, forcing employers to cancel work-based vaccine clinics and organizers to rethink how they vaccinate large numbers of people while abiding by social-distancing guidelines.
There may be more drive-thru or walk-up flu shot clinics, similar to the COVID-19 testing sites outside of churches and in store parking lots.
The CDC said there should be plenty of vaccines to go around, with 194,000 and 198,000 doses available this year, up 15% from last fall.
The flu vaccine should begin arriving in early September.
Dr. Bhargava recommends getting in as early as possible to get vaccinated before the flu viruses begin to circulate.
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That is because it typically takes at least two weeks for your body to build up protective antibodies after your vaccinated.
"Look at supermarkets, look at pharmacies, talk to your doctors' offices," she said. "Doctors’ offices have gone (above and) beyond any type of effort to make sure they're clean, to make sure there are options available. So, there are options to get the shot, but you just have to look for them. You should want to look for them early, as there might be a mad rush to get the flu vaccine later on."
To find a flu vaccine in your area, visit vaccine.gov.