FLU SHOTS: What You Need to Know in the Time of COVID-19

Flu shots will be available at Penn Highlands Healthcare starting this Monday, August 24 from Penn Highlands primary care providers, at our community pharmacy locations, and our QCare walk-in clinics. With flu as an extremely pertinent topic this year—even more than in years past—Penn Highlands infectious disease specialist Dr. Deepak Garg, MD, delivers expertise on the importance of flu shots in the time of COVID-19.

To start, says Garg, “I want to make people understand an important point: both the flu and COVID-19 affect the respiratory system, and you don't want to get both. That is a concern for complication and even death.” Not to instill fear but instead to impart wisdom, here’s why the flu shot will be so beneficial this year.

Dr. Garg, national reports suggest getting the flu shot this year is more important than ever. Is that true?
Garg: Yes, that's true. During the last flu season when COVID-19 came, healthcare professionals saw many patients who had both flu and COVID-19. Both can compromise your breathing or give a patient shortness of breath—so you don't want to get both. If you can prevent the flu, that would be best.

Do we need to get our flu shots earlier this year?
Garg: Yes, I would say get them as soon as they are available. Historically, the flu shot has offered protection for four to five months. Many patients would receive the shot toward the end of September or in October to stay protected for all of flu season.

In that case, will we need to get a second flu shot?
Garg: It depends on the condition and the recommendation at that time. The CDC will establish guidelines. However, I would still advocate for getting an early flu shot. If you don't get the flu, then you won't transmit flu—so you help keep other people safe. COVID-19 is the same: if you have it, you will transmit it.

How does COVID-19 affect my chances of the flu?
Garg: Any infection will weaken your immune system and make you more prone to get more infection.

Will a flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19?
Garg: No.

Could the vaccines for the flu and COVID-19 interact?
Garg: On that, I cannot comment yet. Ultimately it will depend on the guidelines, but I don't see a reason why they would interact.

Will the elderly be most vulnerable?
Garg: The elderly are always more vulnerable for these infections, but that doesn't mean a young person doesn't need a flu vaccine. It's not only for your protection—it's for the protection of your loved ones and others, also.
(In addition, the CDC suggests that some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications. This includes individuals aged 65 and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, pregnant women, and children age five and under, but especially those under age two.)

Dr. Garg, what else is important for the public to know about the flu this year?
Garg: We're already in a pandemic, and we don't want to have another epidemic. The flu vaccine will help individuals do our part to control the spread and avoid creating a flu epidemic in our area.

Will you remind us of the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?
Garg: A pandemic affects multiple continents. An epidemic occurs in a specific area.

Where can I receive my flu shot?
Again, Penn Highlands is offering flu shots in your Penn Highlands primary care providers’ offices, in our retail pharmacies, and at our QCare locations. To find a provider who’s right for you, call the Penn Highlands Healthcare Referral Line at 814-375-6644 or visit /findadoc. For more information on flu shots this year, visit www.phhealthcare.org/flushots.