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Q: Should I get a flu shot this year?

A: Yes, definitely! This year it is especially important to protect yourself from flu. With the COVID-19 pandemic still present in our community, avoiding the flu will give you one less thing to worry about. If we were to add a large number of flu cases on top of the COVID-19 cases we are already seeing, it could easily overwhelm our health care systems.

It is always important to get your flu vaccine every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for everyone over the age of 6 months to get a flu shot unless you have specific contraindications such as a severe, life-threatening allergy to flu vaccine or any ingredients in the vaccine.

The advantages of getting your flu shot are many. First, obviously it can prevent you from getting the flu, which can lead to time lost from work or school no matter what your age or health condition. However, it is especially important for certain higher-risk populations. In children, flu shots have been shown to reduce both hospitalizations and their risk of dying from flu. In pregnant women, it can reduce flu-associated respiratory infections and hospitalization. Pregnant women should always consult with their doctor or practitioner before receiving any vaccine.

A flu shot is especially important for those over 65 or with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart disease, since these are the people at higher risk from flu.

While flu vaccine will not prevent COVID-19, there is no evidence that it increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus like the one that causes COVID-19. The flu vaccine is very safe. While you may get some soreness at the shot site or mild fever or achiness, the risk of any serious complications is very rare and certainly much lower than the risk from the flu itself. You can find answers to many of your concerns about this vaccine at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/misconceptions.htm.

It should be noted that physical distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene also will help prevent the spread of flu and other respiratory viruses, so everything you've been doing to protect against COVID-19 will help against the flu virus.

Flu season will be upon us very soon, so please don't delay. Last year, the CDC estimates, between 39 million and 56 million people in the United States suffered from the flu, leading to 24,000 to 62,000 deaths. The CDC also estimates that 80% of flu-associated deaths in children have occurred in children who were not vaccinated. I can't overemphasize how important flu vaccination is to prevent becoming one of these statistics.

Contact your private physician or clinic or pharmacy about getting your flu shot as soon as possible. Have a safe and healthy fall and always remember to wear your mask.

Dr. Paul M. Hendricks is health officer for the Hamilton County Health Department and a member of the Chattanooga- Hamilton County Medical Society.

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Contributed Photo / Dr. Paul M. Hendricks
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