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Doctors say getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever

Both influenza and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses. Doctors say both viruses have similar symptoms and getting a flu shot this year is very important.

MAINE, USA — With flu season around the corner, doctors want to remind people of the importance of getting a flu shot. Doctors don't know what to expect this year because flu season will come in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and the symptoms of both viruses are very similar.

"So we have the onset of two lung infections meeting this season," said Dr. Rebekah Gass, lead physician for infectious disease care at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.

Most walk-in clinics like Convenient MD, pharmacies, and hospitals around Maine already have the flu vaccine for this season and people can get it for no out-of-pocket cost with your insurance.

"You should get a flu vaccine every year, and its recommended that you get your flu shot before the end of October because it takes about two weeks for you to develop the immune response to the vaccine," said Dr. Gass.

Dr. Gass explains the influenza vaccine needs to be given every year because the immune response wanes over time, so you get a new flu shot every year because you don't have any immunity left from the year before.

"It's very important that this year, everyone who can get a flu shot gets a flu shot, and that's the majority of people who are over the age of six months," said Dr. Gass.

Masking, hand hygiene, social distancing are also some of the things doctors want you not to stop doing. As COVID-19, the flu is also a contagious disease, doctors believe if we do our part the state may see mild flu cases in Maine.

One of the issues with the flu is that both viruses have very similar symptoms.

"Typically fevers, chills, headaches, sore throat, muscle aches, joint aches, things like that," said Dr. John Garrett, lead provider at Convenient MD in Bangor.

Garrett said flu season typically lasts from October to May.

And people should get the shot..."to reduce your risks of having complications with other illnesses you might have," said Dr. Garrett

Doctor Gass said there are three concerns about COVID and flu happening at the same time:

  • First, because you can't tell the difference between flu and COVID based on symptoms, the only way to tell what you have is to get a test. Testing supplies may become an issue in Maine if we have a lot of disease going on.

"You need to know what you have because the treatment is different for the two illnesses, the isolation precautions are different, so it's important to distinguish between the two," said Dr. Gass.

  • Second, the possibility of getting the flu and COVID at the same time.

"You could have much more severe disease, more complicated disease, and potentially have an increased risk of needing to get hospitalized," said Dr. Gass.

  • And the third issue, patients with either flu or COVID could potentially overwhelm our hospitals and medical supplies.

"We want to be sure that you are protected by the time flu shows up in the community," said Dr. Gass.