‘We really need to create a little bubble of protection’: CDC, local doctor recommends flu shot by end of October

SPOKANE, Wash. — Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re still headed toward another flu season.

The CDC is warning that flu season could be starting earlier this year and could be more severe.

The flu season normally starts in late fall, peaks in mid to late winter and continues through early spring.

But there are a few reasons why we may be seeing earlier cases of the flu and it could hit harder than previous years.

One of those reasons is how few cases of the flu we had last year, mostly due to COVID safety measures.

Masking up and social distancing was a must because we didn’t have COVID vaccines yet.

Dr. Gretchen LaSalle, a family physician at Multicare Rockwood Clinic, says last year, she didn’t see a single patient with the flu.

Because of the strict COVID safety measures we had in place back then, there was very low transmission of a virus that doesn’t spread as easily as COVID does.

RELATED: Health experts concerned about COVID-19 mixing with flu season, urge people to get vaccinated

Now, COVID safety measures that were once required have relaxed across the country, kids are back in school and we’re back to being in crowded spaces again where germs can easily spread.

Not to mention, COVID cases have dramatically spiked back up. Dr. Lasalle says this will make for a tricky flu season.

People can have the flu and COVID at the same time, although COVID infections will typically last longer.

The two viruses also have a lot of similar symptoms, but a few telling differences.

A more complete look at the similarities and differences between the flu and COVID-19 can be found here on the CDC website.

“Vomiting and diarrhea are not a typical part of influenza,” said Dr. LaSalle. “We see that maybe a little bit more in kids, but it can be a bigger part of COVID. So that may be one differentiating factor. And then we don’t really see that loss of smell or taste with flu like we do with COVID.”

Just like the COVID vaccine being the best defense against COVID, the same is true for the flu.

A flu shot is highly recommended this year to prevent against serious cases of the flu and to protect those around us who can’t get a shot or are immunocompromised.

RELATED: Here is where to get your flu shot

Dr. LaSalle says in a normal year, the flu shot is about 60-70% effective against serious cases of the flu — and it can get serious for some people.

It’s going to be more important to get the shot early — Dr. LaSalle says by Halloween — to protect ourselves and those most vulnerable in our community.

“Infants up to age six months can’t have a flu vaccine yet. There are people who are immunocompromised who might not have a good response to an influenza vaccine if they do get immunized,” said LaSalle. “So we really need to create a little bubble of protection around those people. That’s why it’s so important, both for flu and for COVID, to have as many people in the community vaccinated as possible.”

The COVID vaccine and flu vaccine can be taken around the same time.

LaSalle says there’s no guidance that says they need to be taken separately and it’s more important than ever to get caught up on both.

Most healthcare providers and local pharmacies are already providing flu shots.

Find out where to get one here.

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