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Opinion | Get flu shot to avoid the next worst-case scenario: A twindemic

As we prepare to enter year three of this pandemic, it seems as if things cannot get any worse. But they certainly can – if we face a “twindemic.” A mass outbreak of the flu combined with the number of people already suffering from COVID-19 is the worst possible situation in which we could next find ourselves.

Dr. Pino Colone
Dr. Pino Colone is an Emergency Medicine Specialist at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and President of the Michigan State Medical Society. (Courtesy photo)

Due to increased masking, handwashing and social distancing measures required by COVID-19, we were able to avoid a large flu outbreak last year. However, likely due to pandemic fatigue or fears about getting multiple vaccines at once, the rate of flu vaccinations is trending lower than in past years, right as we head into the heart of flu season. As of January 2022, the flu vaccination rate in Michigan is down 12 percent from last year.

As a physician, I receive many questions from people who are overwhelmed by the amount of information out there and are fearful they or their loved ones will become seriously ill. The fact that the current pandemic is now being coupled with flu season gives weight to the possibility we could find ourselves in a twindemic, so I wanted to share information from my own medical experience that I think could be helpful.

There has been some misunderstanding with patients who believe the flu vaccine protects against COVID-19 – or that the COVID-19 vaccine prevents the flu as well. The flu vaccine does not prevent COVID-19, but it does protect against getting influenza and COVID-19 at the same time, a combination which greatly increases the severity of illness. Patients infected with both viruses are over twice as likely to die as patients with only COVID-19.

Another misconception I’ve heard is that flu vaccination begins annually in the fall and goes through the holidays. In fact, February tends to be the worst of flu season. You can receive your vaccine typically until June, and I highly recommend getting it as soon as possible. Just like with the COVID-19 vaccine, it takes up to 2 weeks for immunity to the flu to build after you are vaccinated.

It isn’t just adults who are eligible to receive a flu vaccine. Kids 6 months and older can – and should – get the flu shot, too. With children back in classrooms and daycare, things are much different this year than last. We need to do everything we can to keep the number of flu cases as low as possible.

The bad news is that a twindemic could very well be in our near future. The great news, however, is that getting your flu vaccine is easy – just contact your doctor’s office.

In Michigan, we’re working toward the goal of vaccinating 4 million residents against the seasonal flu, to drastically reduce the odds of a mass outbreak. This can easily be accomplished. As of January 8, 2.8 million residents have already been vaccinated – 75 percent of the goal for the 2021-2022 flu season has been reached. Now we have to reach the other 25 percent.

Time is of the essence. You should get vaccinated now, before the wave of influenza season begins its surge.

Don’t do it for this physician, though: get your flu shot to protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect your co-workers, friends, and church community. We can’t stop the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can stop a twindemic.

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