If you want to know when you should get your flu shot, Dr. Mysheika W. Roberts says the answer is simple: Do it now.
“It takes close to two weeks before you get full protection,” said Roberts, Columbus Public Health commissioner. “People need to have the shot and be protected before gathering with others or traveling for Thanksgiving.”
The Ohio Department of Health on Friday posted its first flu statistics for the season on its dashboard. For the week ending Oct. 9, six hospitalizations were reported, with three in Central Ohio and three in southeast Ohio. Last year, there were two hospitalizations statewide for the same period.
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With the COVID-19 pandemic hanging around for its second flu season, Roberts said she worries that this flu season (generally considered October through April) could be extra rough.
That’s because last year — with most activities still limited or shut down, with face coverings mandated and with social distancing the norm — many people were so protected that they weren’t even exposed to the flu. That means it could hit harder now.
Roberts said the flu is no joke. She had a serious case herself back when she was a medical-school student.
“The flu hits you like a train. It puts you out,” she said, adding that she was so exhausted for two weeks that she was too tired to even binge watch television. “No one wants it.”
And the best protection is the vaccine, experts say. Yet a survey released earlier this month by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases said that 44% of adults in the U.S. are either unsure on whether to get a flu vaccine or already say they won’t.
Where can you get a flu vaccine?
Flu shots are readily available at pharmacies and retail locations that host health clinics and from your local health provider.
Columbus Public Health offers the flu vaccine at the same locations it is offering COVID vaccines at convenient spots in various neighborhoods, Roberts said. And no appointment is necessary.
Those clinics include at Columbus Public Health, 240 Parsons Ave., every weekday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Tuesdays, when hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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The vaccine is also available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Linden Community Center, 1350 Briarwood Ave. (Mondays); Columbus Fire Station 10, 1096 W. Broad St. (Tuesdays); Westgate Community Center, 455 S. Westgate Ave. (Fridays); and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Columbus Fire Station 18, 1630 Cleveland Ave. (Thursdays) and Barack Community Center, 580 E. Woodrow Ave. (Wednesdays).
Franklin County Public Health hosts a number of clinics as well and information can be found by calling 614-525-3719 or through online scheduling at myfcph.org/health-wellness/shots/.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a flu shot finder online at www.vaccines.gov/find-vaccines/.
And yes, you can get both the COVID (original or booster) and flu vaccines at the same time.
How do officials know what to expect in strains of flu each season?
Roberts said health experts monitor the flu season in the southern hemisphere to learn about new strains that have developed.
The CDC says that for this season, all flu vaccines will be designed to protect against the four viruses that research predicts will be most common.
Who should get a flu shot and why are some people hesitant?
The CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months get the flu vaccine. Those age 65 and older get a higher dose than others for more protection.
Roberts said some people feel as if since they are healthy and generally don’t get sick, why bother? But she reiterated about her own experience.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” she said. “That’s why I get it. Why take the chance?”
In addition, she said, it’s about protecting others. Dr. Roberts, for example, has an aging mother who she certainly doesn’t want to pass the flu onto.
Medical experts have warned that the flu shot is even more important this year with hospitals stretched thin and health care workers overworked by COVID-19 cases. Adding a huge number of hospitalizations for flu cases will only exacerbate the problem, Roberts warned.
Does the flu actually give you the flu?
Contrary to myth, no.
Roberts said much like with the COVID vaccine, a person may have mild symptoms like body aches, a headache or low-grade fever but that usually passes within 24 hours. It is, she said, a body’s immune system doing what it is supposed to do.