The Centers for Disease Control recommends a flu vaccination in September or October. (Courtesy photo)

by James Coleman —

While COVID-19 shows no signs of letting up, the flu season has arrived on schedule – putting many people’s health at high risk yet again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working double time, warning the public to maintain new health safeguards – social distancing, face masks and frequent hand washing – while at the same time getting a flu shot.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the spread of respiratory illness, like flu, this fall and winter is more important than ever,” the CDC said in a public statement. “CDC recommends getting a flu vaccination in September or October . . . Use the VaccineFinder to find out where to get the flu vaccine.”

This fall, healthcare providers, drug stores and medical professionals are joining forces to give individuals the facts and halt the spread of disinformation. Memphians can still get the flu even though they are spending much more time indoors, according to BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS), a healthcare provider.

Dr. Andrea Willis (Courtesy photo)

“Both the flu and COVID-19 cause respiratory infections, and it’s possible to get both at the same time. We don’t know yet how that would affect a patient, but it could be risky,” said Dr. Andrea Willis, chief medical officer and former pediatrician with BCBS. “Since there’s a safe, easy way to lower the chances you’ll get the flu, it’s more important than ever to take that step by getting a flu shot.”

Meanwhile, the Shelby County Health Department Health Department has launched a $1 million public information campaign regarding the importance of flu vaccinations amid a pandemic.

The best way to protect your family is to learn to separate facts from misinformation. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) while flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. There are some key differences between the two: COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. It can also take longer before people show symptoms and COVID-19 patients can be contagious for longer.

Most importantly, there is a readily available vaccine to protect against flu but not for COVID-19, though some vaccines are in various stages of development.

Both of these highly infectious illnesses have varying degrees of signs and symptoms ranging from no symptoms to severe symptoms, which can include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, headache, runny nose, muscle pain or body aches, and fatigue. There are symptoms that distinguish COVID-19 as well: Some patients report loss of taste and smell and eye problems.

“Seniors, age 65 and older are at risk of severe illness from influenza, but they are not the only ones,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Officer. “Pregnant women and children younger than age 5 are also at risk of developing serious illness from influenza. That is why the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older,”

Older Americans are also in a high-risk group for the Coronavirus, particularly men over the age of 70 and anyone with comorbidities like cancer, heart disease, respiratory issues, diabetes and obesity-related illnesses. The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has disproportionately affected minorities and lower-income individuals and households.

Flu vaccines are now available at drug stores, select medical offices and during special community events. In most cases, the costs are covered by health insurance plans. On October 17, community clinics will make the shots available, including the Immunization Clinic at 814 Jefferson Ave in Memphis, Galloway Clinic at 477 N. Manassas, and the Southland Mall Clinic.

“The Shelby County Health Department is awaiting a shipment of flu vaccine from the Tennessee Department of Health. That vaccine will be offered at all the Health Department’s community clinics. We advise people to go ahead and get a flu shot as soon as possible, wherever is most convenient for them,” said Dr. Randolph.

Other clinics are scheduled for Collierville, Hickory Hill, Millington, Shelby Crossing and Raleigh.

The safeguards put in place to protect against COVID-19 should also help guard against spread of the flu. Health professionals recommend that everyone wear a mask firmly over mouth and nose to reduce respiratory droplets outdoors; maintain a social distance of six feet, if not more; and avoid crowds, particularly indoors. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face, nose and mouth.

“One thing we’d like to stress about the flu (and COVID-19, too) is that we’re all in this together. If we take a community-minded approach, and remember that taking precautions for ourselves can also help make other people safer, Tennesseans can get through flu season together,” said Willis.