- What you need to know: With SARS-CoV-2 circulating, and the flu virus right on its heels, healthcare providers suggest flu vaccines this year more than ever.
Although the flu vaccine is not a magic pill – it can’t protect you from COVID-19 or even guarantee you won’t fall victim to the flu – it can reduce how sick you’ll get if you contract influenza and keep you out of the hospital. And during the pandemic, those are two benefits healthcare providers hope you’ll find worth the shot.
Facing the threat of dual epidemics at the same time, healthcare providers are ratcheting up their call for influenza vaccinations. Their hope: Keep the hospital beds open and patients from experiencing two viral illnesses at once.
“The flu vaccine, while far from perfect, can protect you from developing influenza infection,” says Michelle Barron, MD, a professor in the University of Colorado School of Medicine and an infectious diseases expert. “Even when it is not a perfect match to flu strains that are circulating in the community, a flu shot has been shown to decrease complications related to flu if you get the illness. Specifically, you are less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to have severe disease,” Barron said.
CU Nursing Assistant Professor Emily Cheshire gives the chancellor his flu shot on campus.
Is there an ideal time to get a flu shot?
Because the start of flu season varies every year, Barron said timing is less important than just getting the shot. “The best time to get a flu shot is literally when you think about it,” she said. “So if you are at the grocery store, and they are offering flu vaccines, or you are in your doctor’s office for other reasons, if it is available, that is a good time to get it done.”
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective, Barron said. “You can get a flu shot as early as September and can continue to get the vaccine even when the flu starts to circulate widely,” Barron said. “This year though, it is expected to be an early flu season, so it is recommended that you try and get your flu shot before the end of October. Again, if you don’t get it done by October, you still can and should get one.”
Older-adult version might boost effectiveness
There are two versions of the flu shot for older adults: the higher dose and the adjuvanted. The higher dose has four times the amount of antigen (the substance that triggers the immune response), said Emily Cheshire, DNP, assistant professor at the CU College of Nursing. The adjuvanted vaccine is made with a substance that creates a stronger immune response to the flu.
“Immunosenescence, which is described in the literature as age-associated changes in the immune system resulting in impaired immune responses, is largely linked to a diminished response to vaccines and an increased rate of morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases,” Cheshire said. “Essentially, this means that as we age, our immune system declines.”
Therefore, individuals over 65 often have a less robust immune response to the standard flu vaccine, and studies have shown that the higher dose of antigen might offer more protection to that age group.
Kyle Smith takes advantage of a drive-through flu-shot clinic open to the CU Anschutz community.
CU Nursing clinics make it easy to take action
The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is providing multiple opportunities to get a flu shot. “Getting your annual flu shot is a smart preventive measure,” said Chancellor Don Elliman. “The Campus Health Center has made it simple to get your flu vaccination quickly and safely, and I encourage all members of the CU Anschutz community to get their shot scheduled today.”
Members of the CU Anschutz campus community can call 303-724-6242 to make an appointment. Most insurance plans cover the cost of the flu shot, and self-pay is also available. Find details on the CU Nursing Campus Health Center website.
On-campus flu clinics will be located in a tent in the Monte Vista parking lot south of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center (AHWC). Designated patient parking spaces for curbside vaccine delivery and outdoor waiting areas are clearly marked. People are asked to arrive at their scheduled time and to not enter the AHWC building.
Appointments are offered most Mondays, Wednesday and Thursdays now until Oct. 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Campus Health Center is able to accommodate other times on an individual basis as needed.
CU Nursing and its nurse practitioner-led clinic at Belleview Point are also offering drive-up flu clinics now through Oct. 7 that are open to the public. In order to facilitate safety and convenience, shots at the clinic (5001 S. Parker Road, No. 215, in Aurora) are by appointment only. Call 303-315-6200.
Some things to remember: Due to COVID-19, appointments, mask wearing and pre-appointment screening are required. A 15-minute post-vaccine waiting period is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.