With the flu season beginning in September, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reminds residents how important it is to be protected against influenza this year by getting your annual flu shot. Many pharmacies, pediatricians, and vaccine providers already are offering flu shots.
The quadrivalent flu vaccine that’s currently available this year protects against the four most common different flu viruses that are expected to circulate this flu season. Flu vaccines are safe, effective, and do not cause the flu.
Even more than usual, getting the flu vaccine this year is important. As the new flu season unfolds, there’s concern that our state’s overwhelmed hospitals and medical facilities could see even more patients seeking treatment for the flu. Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed by caring for COVID-19 patients, limiting resources for other medical help. Last week, news outlets in the neighboring state of Alabama reported that a man who was not seeking COVID-19 treatment died after 43 hospitals did not have an ICU bed available to treat his heart problems.
“As the COVID-19 crisis continues, we need to keep ourselves as healthy as possible, and getting your flu vaccine is one of the key measures we can take,” said Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist. “Please, keep yourself healthy and help shield our state’s overburdened hospitals by getting your annual flu shot.”
Because the same disease-prevention methods that limit the spread of COVID-19 – face masks, physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and disinfecting common surfaces – also stop the spread of the influenza virus, last year’s flu season was one of the mildest in decades. Over the previous five flu seasons, the state has averaged 3,779 flu cases, 2,944 flu hospitalizations and 135 flu-related deaths each year. Last year, only 265 cases of the flu, 188 hospitalizations and 19 flu-related deaths were reported in South Carolina.
“We know there are simple measures we can take to stop disease spread such as masks and physical distancing, but vaccinations are by far the most effective tool we have for protecting our bodies from vaccine-preventable diseases like the flu and COVID-19,” said Dr. Bell. “If you aren’t fully vaccinated against COVID-19, talk to your vaccine provider about getting your COVID-19 shot and flu shot at the same visit. You can safely get both vaccines at the same time.”
Because the flu and COVID-19 can have similar symptoms, anyone with symptoms such as fever or chills, coughing, or sore throat should get tested, as testing is the only way to confirm what illness a person has. If a person with these symptoms tests negative for COVID-19, they can talk to their health care provider about getting a flu test.
“Contracting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time is possible and could likely cause more complications than if the flu were the sole infection,” said Dr. Bell. “We are fortunate that science has afforded our generation with safe and effective vaccines, and we should take advantage of them to protect against life-threatening illnesses like the flu and COVID-19.”
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of six months, and flu shots are recommended for pregnant women and women wishing to become pregnant. Flu shots are available at multiple locations across the state. Contact a pharmacy, hospital, or doctor near you to see if they’re currently offering flu shots. To see if and when your local DHEC public health department offers the flu shot, click here or call 855-472-3432.