While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be the most deadly virus threat Americans have faced in 100 years, the 2020-21 flu season is about the enter its most active months.
There is no "official" start to flu season, but, typically, flu activity begins to increase in October, according to the CDC, with the majority of cases usually occurring in December and January. So, getting a flu shot now makes the most sense, said Len McCook, who owns McCook's Pharmacy in Statesboro along with his wife Janie.
"A flu vaccine is not a guarantee you won't get the flu," he said. "But it absolutely gives you the best chance of avoiding coming down with the flu."
In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months and older. But flu is most dangerous for people over age 65, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes.
For the 2019–20 flu season, the CDC estimated that 48% of adults were vaccinated. Also, CDC data showed that for 2019–20, there were 38 million flu illnesses, 18 million flu-associated medical visits, 400,000 flu hospitalizations and 22,000 flu deaths.
One of the longest-standing myths about the vaccine, McCook said, is that it gives some people the flu. The most common side effects from an influenza shot are temporary soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given.
"The flu vaccine does not give anyone the flu," he said. "The vaccine is derived from an inactive virus and is in no way infectious. Still, there is no doubt that is the number one reason people tell us they won't get the vaccine."
But since September, Janie McCook said the pharmacy has seen a significant uptick in people wanting a flu shot.
"It seems many more people are concerned since the flu and COVID have similar symptoms," she said. "So we have seen a greater number of people asking to get the flu shot than we did at this time last year."
In fact, Len McCook said the pharmacy already has given double the number of shots they gave by mid-November in 2019.
Also, the McCook's have noticed another phenomenon about the vaccine this year – a lot more first-timers – they think is a direct result of the current pandemic.
"People are coming in early and in larger numbers, because, we think, they see COVID and fear coming down with both the flu and the virus at the same time," Len McCook said. "They are trying to decrease their chances of getting the flu and many are getting the vaccine for the first time."
The Associated Press has reported that a record number of flu vaccine doses are being shipped this year — between 194 million and 198 million for the U.S. alone — seemingly plenty considering last year just under half of adults got vaccinated and there usually are leftovers, the report stated.
But there already have been some reports around the world and the nation of vaccine supplies running low and some experts fear there may be a waiting period later this year and early 2021 for some people who want a vaccine.
Len McCook also thinks a shortage later in the flu season is possible.
"We are at the optimal time to get a flu shot," he said. "We would recommend going ahead and getting one now because it is possible that there could be a shortage if you wait and you might miss your opportunity to get the vaccine exactly when you want one.
"For now, we have plenty of vaccine and there is no wait."
This article is sponsored by McCook's Pharmacy, which is located on Highway 80 East, across from Fordham's Farmhouse restaurant. You can reach McCook's by calling (912) 764-2223 or their website www.mccookspharmacy.com.