Tennova Medical Group, which operates several hospitals in East Tennessee, is encouraging everyone age 6 months and older to get a flu shot this fall. The flu shot is a safe, proven way to lower the risk of getting influenza, which can cause a severe upper respiratory illness. The COVID-19 pandemic makes getting a flu shot—and taking every precaution possible to avoid the flu and other illnesses—even more important this year.
“While the flu vaccination will not prevent or protect against COVID-19, it can reduce the impact of flu-related respiratory illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths,” said Christian Lansing, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Tennova Medical Group in Morristown. “And because it’s possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, we anticipate that patients with co-infection will likely be sicker and have poorer outcomes.”
Lowering the risk of flu also can help prevent a situation that overwhelms the U.S. health system. Surges of COVID-19 patients have already challenged hospitals in some communities. If those surges return in the fall and winter, healthcare providers could be further challenged in caring for all of the patients that need medical attention.
It’s likely that the influenza virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both spread this fall and winter,” said Kaneez Leonard-Bowden, M.D., a family medicine physician with Tennova Medical Group in Karns. “Even though flu shots won’t prevent all cases of the flu, getting vaccinated can decrease the intensity and duration of the illness.”
According to Dr. Lansing, adults with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease are at greater risk for severe complications from flu. “For example, flu can make glucose control more difficult for diabetics, and those with heart disease can have increased risk for another heart attack. Others at high risk for influenza complications include infants and young children, pregnant women, and adults age 65 years and older,” he said.
But healthy people should get flu shots, too, to reduce their risk of getting the flu and also to lower the risk of spreading it to others who are at risk. Flu shots are available right now, and in many cases, they are covered by insurance plans. Because flu shots can take a couple of weeks to take effect, doctors at Tennova Healthcare recommend getting a flu shot as soon as possible. Vaccines work with the body’s natural defenses to develop protection from disease.
Tennova Medical Group is offering flu vaccination for current and new patients at its primary care and specialty clinics across the region. Individuals are advised to get vaccinated between late September and early November for the best protection throughout the flu season. As long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue, even in January or later.
“Tennova’s physician practices are taking extra precautions to maintain a clean and safe environment for patients and caregivers,” Dr. Leonard-Bowden said. “Safety remains the highest priority and procedures are in place to enhance infection prevention, including universal masking of staff and patients, and limiting the numbers of patients at any one time to minimize waiting. When appropriate, we also offer telehealth visits.”