LVHN infectious disease doctor: It’s time to get your flu shot
It’s that time of the year again. Time for a flu shot.
Dr. Luther Rhodes III, an infectious disease specialist at Lehigh Valley Health Network, said influenza kills between 30,000 and 60,000 people every year in the United States. “That can be reduced by getting an influenza vaccination,” he said.
Rhodes said everyone 6 months old and older can get the vaccine.
In past years, priority has been given to very young children and adults 60 years old and older, but this year is different, he said. This year, everyone should get a flu vaccine.
The importance of this year’s flu shot
Getting the vaccine can help doctors eliminate influenza as the potential cause of an infection and diagnose COVID-19 more quickly when it occurs.
“This is a whole different year with flu vaccine,” he said. “It is really essential this year that we do every possible thing that we can do to not only prevent influenza, which is a serious infection, but to blunt COVID as well. We really have to go all hands on deck as an appropriate way to approach this.”
Getting both the flu and COVID-19 is a bad idea.
“The influenza vaccine is a good investment in reducing the COVID infection or minimizing the chance of someone getting a COVID infection and influenza,” he said. “Two infections at the same time actually cause more than double trouble, they’re triple trouble because they have an effect called synergy. Synergy means the end product is worse than either part alone. It’s more than a double whammy, it’s a triple whammy, and to be avoided at all costs.”
For people who get sick with influenza, doctors have a medication that is effective, but they are still struggling with a surefire treatment for COVID.
Being able to determine if a person is sick with influenza, COVID or both helps them know which medications to give because it may mean giving them multiple antiviral medications.
For influenza, Tamiflu is the brand name medication that has been around for about eight years and has been effective, Rhodes said.
For COVID-19, he said he prescribes dexamethasone almost daily for patients who do not need to be admitted to the hospital. It is an inexpensive pill and widely available. Remdesivir is an intravenous medication that is used only for patients who are admitted to the hospital.
“I feel good about the fact that the number of hospitalizations has dramatically dropped and is staying reduced,” he said despite an increase in positive tests. “Fewer people are getting ill enough to come to the hospital. Something’s happening and it’s a good something, but we’re not near the finish line yet.”
Who should get the flu shot?
There are several months ahead of infections, but the influenza vaccine is a good place to start, he said. It’s something people can do to protect themselves now.
Rhodes said that the vaccine for influenza typically lasts a minimum of six months.
For that reason, adults usually begin getting the vaccine in October, so that they have immunity through March. But the vaccine can last longer than six months in some people.
Adults who are 60 years old or older, some doctors prefer 65 years old and older, get a higher dose influenza vaccine, because their immune systems do not respond as quickly to infection as that of a younger person.
Some people get alarmed when they hear higher dose, but they really should think of it as an age-appropriate dose, he said.
Children who have never had a vaccine for influenza need to have two doses of the vaccine. They usually get the first shot in August or September and the booster shot later.
Now is the time to be figuring out where to go get a vaccine - pharmacy, some employers or primary care physician.
“You don’t want to wait until there are headlines of widespread flu. This is the time to avoid the rush,” he said.
As for if there is enough vaccine to go around, Rhodes said people shouldn’t worry about shortages.
“They’ve made plenty of vaccine,” he said.