Why Experts Say The Flu Shot Is Even More Important This Year

Brace yourselves, flu season is coming. Yes, it arrives every autumn (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says October is the usual kickoff month), and every year we're warned to get a flu shot, and every year fewer than half of us actually do (via the CDC). The reasons why many don't bother with such a shot are varied, with CNBC reporting that these may range from fear that the vaccine actually gives people the flu, doubt that the shot really does much of anything, and sheer indifference due to the their feeling that it's "just" the flu — so what?

Well, the flu can actually kill you, that's what. Preliminary estimates of the 2019/2020 flu season indicate a mortality rate possibly as high as 62,000 (via the CDC), while WebMD relates that the 2017/2018 flu season caused 80,000 deaths. The 2020/2021 flu season may well be one of the worst in modern memory, however, due to what CNN Health calls a "nightmare scenario" featuring hospitals stretched way beyond capacity housing both flu victims and those suffering from COVID-19.

Why you should definitely get a flu shot this year

While the flu shot isn't 100 percent effective, last year's vaccine was about 45 percent effective, and if that means 45 percent fewer of us come down with the flu, well, that should lift a significant amount of the burden off our already overworked health care professionals. What's more, while Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association, admits that while the flu vaccine can't do anything to prevent COVID-19 transmission, he said that getting a flu shot could help your doctor determine whether you're more likely to be suffering from flu or COVID-19 should you be exhibiting any of the two diseases' shared symptoms (cough, sore throat, fever).

Oh, and there's also the "what if" scenario of contracting both diseases at the same time. We don't yet know what that would look like, but it's bound to be ugly. While as of yet there is no COVID-19 vaccine, getting vaccinated against the flu means that you're less likely to be vulnerable to getting a double dose of viral infection.

How to get this year's flu shot

Getting a flu shot may look a little different this year. For one thing, there are less likely to be any of those free flu shot clinics offered by many employers, what with people still working from home as well as reluctance on the part of any organization to promote any indoor gatherings where germs could easily be transmitted. While some employers are considering the feasibility of parking lot clinics, Julie Stone, managing director for health and benefits at consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, says that others may stick to offering uninsured employees vouchers that can be used to get flu shots offsite.

Pharmacies are encouraging people to schedule their flu shot appointments ahead of time and do any required paperwork online, and certain providers (such as CVS Minute Clinics) may require those waiting for shots to do so outside in their cars until they are called to come in. Other pharmacies, including Walgreens, are planning to take their vaccination show on the road, continuing an ongoing partnership with community organizations, churches, and workplaces to offer mobile flu clinics. 

No matter the hassle involved in getting a flu shot, however, it's one more aspect of post-pandemic etiquette, right up there with social distancing and mask-wearing. Just something we all must do in order to stay safe and to take some of the pressure off of our heavily-burdened healthcare system.