Your Best Shot at Staying Healthy This Flu SeasonNovember 02, 2021
By Dr. Bernard Bettencourt
It’s getting cooler outside and people across the state and country will be moving activities indoors. This is when the flu normally takes hold, so now is the time to get a flu shot.
Last year’s flu rates were historically low, largely credited to masking, social distancing, remote work and learning, and avoiding crowds. As many activities have resumed, some experts warn that infection rates for both flu and COVID-19 could rise this winter.
Many people at higher risk for flu are also at higher risk for COVID-19, but there are ways to reduce risks for severe disease from both.
Getting both vaccines is the best way to avoid illness this flu season. No one gets the flu from the flu shot, just as no one can contract COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccines. Conversely, flu vaccination reduces the risk of illness by more than 50 percent, and studies show the COVID-19 vaccines are even more effective at preventing severe illness, even with the rise in variants.
Time for a booster? It’s OK to receive both vaccines at the same time. The CDC website shows who is eligible for COVID-19 booster shots based on approvals for the different manufacturers. If you are getting a COVID-19 vaccine, you may be able to get your flu shot during the same visit.
ideally, the earlier in the fall you get your flu shot, the better. If you are not eligible for a COVID-19 booster until much later, you should get your flu shot now and then follow up when the time is right for the COVID-19 booster.
The flu vaccine may be as nearby as your local pharmacy. Most pharmacies accept walk-ins and most insurance. Visit my-flu-shot.com to find pharmacies near you offering flu shots this year. If you are seeking vaccines for a child, check what ages the pharmacy is certified to vaccinate.
If you have insurance, the shot will likely cost you nothing. Most health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover flu shots at no cost. No-cost transportation may also be available for members in select Medicaid and Medicare plans. If you don’t have transportation through your health plan and need help finding a ride, you can visit mass211.org or the Aunt Bertha community resource link to find assistance.
As data from UniCare and its parent company’s health plans shows only half of adults and children received a flu shot last season*, UniCare supports those most at risk for complications from the flu and COVID-19 by increasing awareness of the importance of the flu shot and decreasing barriers to receiving it. We are also taking our message to the community, partnering with the American Lung Association to provide digital education tools and resources to empower employers, community leaders and the general public to take control of their health and help minimize their risk, and the risk of others, in contracting the flu.
This is a critical moment, and we all have an opportunity to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. UniCare encourages everyone eligible to get their flu shot, in addition to their COVID-19 vaccines – it’s our best shot at staying healthy this flu season.
*Source: Suzy - data collected in Spring 2021 from a survey of 1,040 USA consumers ages 18 to 73.
Bernard Bettencourt, DO, MPH, is the medical director for UniCare. He is a board-certified specialist in emergency and occupational and environmental medicine. Learn more about UniCare at www.unicaremass.com.