ATLANTA - With an unpredictable flu season just around the corner, Newnan Family Medicine's Dr. Cecil Bennett is urging his patients to start protecting themselves now, by wearing masks when they are around strangers, washing their hands frequently throughout the day, and by getting a flu shot, soon.
"As we get more into the flu season, and more people start getting sick and we have more news reports of people getting sick, there is going to be a mad rush to get the shot," Dr. Bennett says. "So, get it now when it's pretty easy to do."
The CDC recommends Americans age 6 months and older who are able to be vaccinated get a flu shot by the end of October.
Each year, Bennett says, only about half of eligible Americans get the vaccine.
The vaccine effectiveness varies year to year, lowering the risk of flu infection by about 40 to 60%, according to the CDC.
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Still, Dr. Bennett says, the flu and COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at keeping people from becoming severely ill.
"Flu can really knock you down for a week or two, with body aches, fever, chills, diarrhea, nausea," Dr. Bennett says "It can be quite debilitating in some individuals. So, it's not something to play around with. And that can happen at any age. Now, if you actually have those symptoms, of course, people are going to be worried about COVID."
With some Georgia hospitals stretched dangerously thin by a fourth wave of hospitalizations tied to the more contagious delta variant, Bennett says, you do not want to end up needing care for a virus that could have been prevented with a shot.
"If you're vaccinated, you're taking COVID off the table," he says. "If you get your flu shot, you're taking flu off the table. So, if you should have some mild symptoms, you can rest assured that you're fully vaccinated, and that can probably be handled by your primary care physician or by a pharmacy nurse practitioner. But, you're taking off the table severe disease due to flu or due to COVID."
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The CDC says it safe to get a flu shot and COVID-19 shot or booster at the same time.
Bennett recommends staggering them two weeks apart.
"There's nothing wrong with giving them both together," he says. "But, for my patients, I want to know, if they're going to have side effects, which vaccines actually cause the side effects."
To locate the flu vaccine in your area, visit vaccines.gov.