Dec 17, 2020 On Behalf of Emergency Room Doctors Everywhere, Get Your Flu Shot

With all the news about rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, it can be easy to overlook annual preventative health measures. But winter is coming (and in many places, already here), and the annual rise in flu coincides with the change of weather. With the added threat of a potential “twindemic,” or the combined effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season, it is more important than ever before to get a flu vaccine. A safe and easy investment in your health, flu vaccination will not only help protect you and your loved ones, but will alleviate strain on community hospitals and emergency departments who have been hard-hit by the pandemic.

Influenza is a serious illness. Flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe symptoms, and sometimes death. Preliminary CDC data on the 2019-2020 U.S. flu season shows that there have already been between 410,000-740,000 flu-related hospitalizations this year.

Flu vaccines can prevent illness and/or lessen the effects of influenza. Flu vaccines are an important preventative care tool to protect individuals and communities. While they won’t protect against COVID-19, studies show that flu vaccinations can reduce cases of influenza by between 40% and 60% of the overall population each year. In those cases where a patient contracts influenza despite receiving the vaccine, many see a reduction in the severity of symptoms.

Flu vaccines can protect precious health care resources. Individuals experiencing medical emergencies or requiring immediate medical attention should go to the emergency room, where they will be safely treated and separated from COVID-19 patients to avoid infection. But during a time when hospital staff are working tirelessly to care for a surge of COVID-19 patients, taking steps to prevent or reduce influenza symptoms will keep some patients out of the emergency room, conserving precious medical resources for the community.

On behalf of emergency room doctors everywhere, do what you can to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious illness this season. Wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, wear a mask (recommended for COVID-19 prevention, but applies here as well), and get your flu shot.

By Dr. Christopher Freer, Senior Vice President for Emergency at RWJBarnabas Health