Facing the likelihood of a tough winter as the coronavirus pandemic collides with flu season, healthcare officials are encouraging Newarkers to get the flu vaccine.
Earlier this month, Delaware reported its first confirmed influenza case of the season, a young child from Kent County.
“With the increase in COVID-19 cases we’ve seen over the past few weeks, it is more important than ever to get the flu vaccine if you haven’t already,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health. “The flu vaccine won’t prevent COVID-19, but it is effective at preventing the flu. The flu vaccine decreases the number of people who need to be treated for the flu. This means more health care supplies, resources, and professionals will be available on the front lines to fight the pandemic. By eliminating the need to visit your provider’s office or be hospitalized for the flu, you help lower the risk of workers on the front lines getting sick.”
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic adds a different wrinkle to flu season this year, because it means the health system is already under stress. But unlike coronavirus, which has no approved vaccine yet, there’s an easy way to reduce one’s likelihood of catching the flu.
“It’s important every year. This year, specifically, with all of the other health challenges that are going on, we want our patients to protect themselves the best that they can, from what we can protect them from currently,” said Ryan Kimball, a nurse practitioner with ChristianaCare.
He urged people to get their flu shot soon, if they haven’t already done so. The vaccine takes a couple weeks to kick in, so getting it now means people will be protected during the peak flu season this winter and the holiday season.
“With the upcoming holiday season and the potential for family gatherings, it’s important for everyone, regardless of health status and risk, to get that immunization to help protect you and your family and loved ones,” Kimball said, though it’s important to note that officials recommend skipping large family gatherings this year due to pandemic.
During the 2019-2020 flu season, Delaware recorded more than 7,000 laboratory-confirmed flu cases. Nearly 400 Delawareans were hospitalized due to the flu and 11 people died from flu complications.
Flu vaccines are offered through physician offices, many pharmacies and some grocery stores. To locate where flu vaccines near you are being offered, Google “CDC flu finder” and enter a ZIP code.
Vaccines are also available daily at the Hudson State Service Center, 501 Ogletown Road. To make an appointment, call 302-283-7570.
In addition to getting an annual flu shot, Delawareans can prevent the spread of the flu the same way they can prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses: Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, wear a face covering when in public, maintain six feet of space between others, and avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
The flu and COVID-19 have many similar symptoms. They include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, and headaches. Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19 that are different from flu include a change in or loss of taste or smell.
Kimball has heard all the reasons not to get the flu vaccine, including “I’ve never had the flu so why get the shot?”
“That’s like saying, “I’ve never been in a car accident so I’ll never wear my seat belt,” Kimball said.
Reporter Jane Bellmyer contributed to this article.