HARRISBURG, Pa. — Get the flu shot now.
The message from health experts is straight and to the point as flu season ramps up across South Central Pennsylvania.
Doctors fear after a down year for influenza cases, the virus will come back with a vengeance. Additional respiratory viruses have already started to appear more frequently, according to Dr. John Goldman, infectious disease expert with UPMC Pinnacle in Harrisburg.
"The worry is because we were so well socially-distanced last year, that we weren't exposed to the flu, and now we have a little less immunity, and as a result, the flu will come back and we could see somewhat of a 'twindemic,'" Dr. Goldman said.
The phrase "twindemic" is one medical experts are using this season to describe the potential of positive influenza and COVID-19 cases at the same time. There are two ways to prevent that from happening: strict mask-wearing and social distancing, which worked last fall, leading to a dip in coronavirus numbers and nearly non-existent flu cases, or getting vaccinated.
The latter is what doctors are pushing for this year. While the COVID-19 vaccine is still yet to be approved for most children, the flu shot is available for anyone six months and older.
COVID-19 and the flu are virtually indistinguishable, says Dr. Goldman, with one main exception, which is COVID-19 leads to a lack of taste and smell. Despite that, it's important to note, the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, and vice versa.
The efficacy of a flu shot varies by year. Influenza, much like COVID-19, constantly mutates, and therefore, the vaccine changes each year. Typically, the flu shot is around 40% effective at blocking the virus.
Much like the COVID-19 vaccine, getting vaccinated does not prevent you from contracting the virus. However, similar to getting the COVID-19 shot, your chances of hospitalization and death drop dramatically if you are inoculated. In high-risk patients, according to Dr. Goldman, people were 50% less likely to die if they got the flu shot than those who went unvaccinated.
Dr. Goldman had a stark warning for those who say they won't get the flu shot because, they say, they've never gotten the flu before.
"The best analogy is someone who has played Russian Roulette and [the bullet] has never hit the chamber," he said. "People get very sick from the flu, and as you get older, you get more sick from the flu. Just because you've dodged that bullet one or several times, doesn't mean you'll continue to dodge that bullet."