Update from Dr. Molly O’Dell for September 9 Edition

The double impact of COVID-19 and flu season

The Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts are gearing up to prepare the community for flu season by providing no-cost flu shot events.

Flu vaccination has many benefits, including reducing the risk of flu illness, reducing flu hospitalizations, and reducing the severity of illness and the risk of death. One reason why individuals may choose not to get a flu vaccine involves the belief that the flu vaccine can give you the flu; however, this is actually a common myth. Flu shots are made with killed flu viruses when using inactivated vaccines, or without flu virus at all when using the recombinant vaccine. Some minor side effects that may occur include soreness, redness and/or swelling where the shot was given, low grade fever, and aches.

We promote the CDC recommendation that everyone ages 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine every year. In terms of timing and when to actually receive the vaccine, you should aim to get the flu vaccine by the end of October, but as long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, you can get a vaccine even later into the year.

As many would think, this year makes it even more important to get a flu vaccine as we will be experiencing the double impact of a full COVID-19 and flu season, as well as other respiratory viruses. When comparing the two, both flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. Several symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar which make it hard tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, but thankfully, testing will help determine the diagnosis and action steps one would then take to stay healthy and safe.

To protect yourself against the flu, flu shot clinics will be available to offer the opportunity for a no-cost flu shot. Those without health insurance are encouraged to attend the upcoming flu shot clinics. In addition to our supply of “no cost” flu vaccine, we will have an additional supply of chargeable flu vaccines on hand for all ages. This supply is for use for individuals with insurance so please bring your insurance card if you have one.

We encourage individuals to wear a face covering while getting their flu shot. We also ask individuals to stay home if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or if currently in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19.

Events will be drive-thru for maximum safety and are held from 4-7 p.m. on the dates and at the locations below:

• September 29 – Craig County Health Center (Craig)

• September 30 – Andrew Lewis Middle School (Salem)

• October 1 – Lord Botetourt High School (Botetourt)

• October 5 – Vinton War Memorial (Roanoke County)

• October 6 – Virginia Western Community College (Roanoke City)

• October 7 – Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (Alleghany/Covington/Clifton Forge)

If you cannot make these events, you can call your local health department to schedule an appointment, or see your doctor or pharmacist for a vaccine. Vaccines available at the health department may have a charge, depending on household income and insurance status.

Although we expect a complicated and challenging winter, we hope the various mitigation strategies for COVID-19 will actually help minimize the spread of flu. Proper hand washing, social distancing, coughing and sneezing into an elbow, and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces help stop the spread of COVID-19, but they also will help fight against the spread of flu.

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