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Should I get a flu shot in 2020? It may be more important this year than ever

With the COVID-19 virus still impacting many parts of the country, the CDC says it is important now more than ever for people to get their flu shot.

Getting a flu shot is going to be important for everyone in 2020, but it's important to know when and where you should can safely do so.

In August, some North Texas doctors said they are gearing up for a potentially busy fall season, dealing with the coronavirus, influenza and the West Nile virus.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading this upcoming fall and winter.

When to get your flu shot

The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine as early in flu season as possible. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu. 

There is no change in CDC’s recommendation on the timing of vaccination this flu season because of COVID-19 factors. September and October are good times to get vaccinated.

Getting vaccinated early is likely to be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults.

Who should get a flu shot

Vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later. Children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.

For the 2020-2021 flu season, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older.

What does a flu shot do?

There are many vaccine options to choose from such as a flu shot, nasal spray flu vaccine or flu vaccination by jet injector.

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination, according to the CDC. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are used to make the vaccine.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Most flu vaccines in the United States protect against four different flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses.

The CDC says millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. 

Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children. 

Getting a flu shot during a pandemic

How and where people get a flu vaccine may need to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC says it works with health care providers and state and local health departments to develop contingency plans and has released a COVID-19 guidance plan for vaccination sites.

The CDC says some settings that usually provide flu vaccine, like workplaces, may not offer vaccination this upcoming season because of the challenges with maintaining social distancing.

For the 2020-21 season, manufacturers have projected they will provide as many as 194-198 million doses of flu vaccine, which is more than the 175 million dose record set during the 2019-20 flu season.

Because of the record number of flu vaccine doses, the CDC says the time it takes to produce and distribute them will be longer.

What's the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

The flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and the flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses

Because some of the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

While more is learned every day, there is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it. The CDC created a table that compares COVID-19 and the flu.

It is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, according to the CDC.

The CDC has developed a test that will check for A and B type seasonal flu viruses along with SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This test will be used by U.S. public health laboratories.

There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccination increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19.