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VERIFY: Do we need the flu shot this year?

With masks and social distancing, many people question if they need the annual flu vaccine

YORK, Pa. — With flu season on the way and Covid-19 still here, there are a lot of questions about what the next few months will look like. That's why the Verify team is here: to get you the answers you need.

We got this question from viewer Matt S.:

"If COVID-19 is more severe than the flu as we have been told by the CDC and Doctors and we are told to wear masks when we leave our houses why do we need to get a flu shot when we are already protected by a mask from COVID 19?" 

Matt makes an interesting point.  If we're already working to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, is it worth getting the flu shot? We took that question to the experts at the Mayo Clinic and the CDC.  

Here's what we can verify:

The CDC says the flu and COVID-19 spread the same way, from person to person by droplets. That's why we wear a mask, to try and catch as many of those droplets as possible.  This is why mask wearing and social distancing will also slow help the spread of the flu.  

The problem is, just like with COVID, normal masks protect others from you. It doesn't protect you from others. So, if someone else has the flu and isn't wearing a mask, you could still catch the virus.  It's important to note that the CDC doesn't recommend wearing a mask to prevent the flu during a normal flu season, unless you're a health care worker that's constantly around patients. 

According to the CDC, unlike COVID-19, which can be asymptomatic, the flu shows symptoms after one day of being contagious.  That means fewer carriers will be walking around. 

So yes, we can verify that wearing a mask and social distancing will help you avoid getting the flu, but just like with COVID-19, it's not a guarantee. The flu shot is just another layer of added protection. CDC data shows that last year's flu vaccine was only about 45% effective, but even for the people who still got the flu-- studies show that it lessened the severity of their symptoms. 

Matt was right about one other thing:  Covid-19 is more severe than the flu. However that does not mean influenza isn't dangerous. As many as 740-thousand people were hospitalized by the flu last year. Doctors say since it would contribute to fewer cases and milder symptoms, getting the vaccine will help conserve resources for those hospitalized with COVID-19.  

So to verify, health experts say it's still very important to get the flu shot, even if you're wearing a mask and social distancing.  The Mayo Clinic calls it quote, "Your best bet for avoiding influenza."

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