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Why Getting a Flu Shot Is More Important Than Ever

While scientists are working on a vaccine for COVID-19, there is an annual vaccine for the flu—and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends it for everyone six months of age and older. Getting the flu shot is particularly important this year. The CDC believes that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will be spreading in the fall and winter. 

The flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year. Many hospitals are already seeing an increase in patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so reducing flu-related hospitalizations is essential. 

Getting your flu shot can help protect you, your family, and your community. Here’s what you need to know about the flu, the flu shot, and COVID-19.

1. As a BCBSRI member, you can get a flu shot at no cost through your plan. 
No-cost flu shots are available at in-network doctors' offices, participating pharmacies, and Rhode Island flu clinics. Please note that pharmacies only provide flu shots for people aged 19 and older. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be different procedures in place for getting your shot than in other years, so please check with the location. Find out where to get your no-cost flu shot

2. Where you get your flu shot may be different this year.
Many people are vaccinated at their workplaces, and if you are still working remotely, that may not be an option. If you think that your usual clinic may not be available, be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacy to make other plans or see if there is another community flu clinic available near you.

3. Early fall is the best time to get your flu shot.
Getting vaccinated early in the fall gives you more protection against the flu. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, it’s still important to get vaccinated, even in January or later. 

4. You can have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
It’s possible to have the flu, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and COVID-19 at the same time, which is one of the reasons why getting the flu shot is so important. Health experts are still studying how common this can be. Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Diagnostic testing can help determine if you are sick with the flu or COVID-19.

5. There is a test that can detect both the flu and COVID-19.
The CDC has developed a test that will check for seasonal flu viruses and COVID-19. Testing for these viruses at the same time will give public heath officials important information about how flu and COVID-19 are spreading and what prevention steps should be taken.

6. If you get the flu, call your doctor right away if you’re at high risk for complications.
Antiviral drugs can be used for people at high risk for flu complications, including children younger than 5, adults older than 65, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma. These drugs can mean the difference between having a mild case of the flu and having a more serious case. Call your doctor early on, because antivirals should be given within 48 hours of getting the flu.

7. To prevent the flu, follow the same steps you do to prevent COVID-19.
That means washing your hands often, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding contact with people who are sick. While most people have not traditionally worn a mask during flu season, it can help prevent the spread of flu as well as COVID-19.

For more information and resources related to COVID-19, please see our Keeping You Well and Well-Informed site.