Article by freelancer Aanisah Husain
Health officials and advocates at the University of Maryland warn that during this flu season in the midst of the pandemic, it may be more important now more than ever to get the flu shot.
The University Health Center sent a community-wide email on Oct. 7 emphasizing the importance of getting a flu shot and encouraging students to sign up for one of the several appointments for the flu vaccine.
“I think this is going to be the first time that we really do see significant overlap in the two viruses circulating out in the public, out in the wild,” Louie Gold, a faculty specialist at the School of Public Health, said. “There’s a lot that we know about the flu, and there isn’t a lot that we know about COVID.”
When the pandemic started in March 2020, flu season was ending in North America. During the second flu season, at the end of 2020, the United States was in strict lockdown.According to Gold, the possibility of dual infection could mean worse symptoms and a greater strain on our health care system.
Jennifer German, a scientist at this university’s School of Public Health studying respiratory viruses, also said the last season was a mild flu season.
“A lot of the precautions that were being taken to prevent COVID-19 are also going to be effective for other respiratory viruses,” German said.
Precautions like mask wearing, social distancing and washing your hands all work to prevent infections from respiratory viruses like the flu and coronavirus.
German also said since many people were not exposed to the flu last year due to lockdown, it is possible for people to experience waning immunity, making them more susceptible to contracting the virus.
Umailla Fatima, president of the Student Health Advisory Committee and senior physiology and neurobiology and public policy double major, said people have become more comfortable with COVID-19 and other infections like the flu because of the increase in vaccinations and loosened precautions.That includes students returning to popular bars around campus.
“Packing into Looney’s without a mask in sight is not a way to keep you healthy and safe, your classmates healthy and safe and a way to return back to normal,” Gold said.
Fatima emphasized the importance of stopping the spread of both the coronavirus and the flu.
“As we’re continuing to navigate the pandemic, it’s also important to mitigate the spread of the flu,” Fatima said. “The flu is another virus that can spread easily and we’re in close contact with a lot of people on campus.”
Both German and Gold also emphasized the need to get the vaccinesso the health care system and medical personnel do not become burdened.
“The whole function of the vaccine is that the more people that get it, the better protected everyone is,” German said.
Though the flu shot — like the COVID-19 vaccine — does not completely prevent contracting the flu, it greatly reduces any risk of serious infection and the need to be hospitalized.
“[The flu shot] does help you have better outcomes, it helps lower the burden on the healthcare system, which is what’s important in making sure that we’re able to handle the worst cases and the most pressing matters,” Gold said.Flu shot appointments are easily accessible through the University Health Center and through local pharmacies.