There are only three months left of 2020, but there’s still so much left to do.
Vote in a presidential election. Fight a global pandemic. Safely plan a handful of holidays. Teach from home, work from home, stay at home.
Get your flu shot.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 may be the most pivotal year to get an influenza vaccine, also known as the flu shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses — like the flu and coronavirus — is essential to prevent future outbreaks and the overcrowding of the healthcare systems already responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an email to the student body Wednesday, USC Student Health informed all USC students taking in-person classes or living in university-owned housing in fall 2020 to complete their influenza immunization requirement by Nov. 1. Students living in off-campus housing are also highly encouraged to get their flu shot.
The requirement stretches far past all students who will be living on campus. A flu shot is mandatory for any individual stepping foot on campus.
Some fear the flu shot, thinking the influenza vaccine infects you, not protects you.
But that’s not scientifically proven.
The flu shot contains an inactive virus, meaning it isn’t alive to multiply and attack the body.
“Vaccines are probably the greatest advance in [modern] medicine,” USC Chief of Health Sarah Van Orman said. “If we look at all the things we’ve done in healthcare and medicine, vaccines are probably the thing that overwhelmingly saves the most lives.”
This includes the influenza vaccination.
The CDC recommends getting a flu shot in September or October, before the usual peak of infections in December, which may last you until March. However, a vaccination during any part of flu season can still help protect you.
Van Orman said, as of Sept. 8, USC has given around a thousand flu shots and received 8,000 more vaccines.
“I think all of us are worried about flu season, and the overlap of symptoms between COVID and influenza,” Van Orman said. “We will be requiring students who live on campus to get a flu shot, and we will actually be requiring the influenza vaccine for when people come back after the holiday, you know, as for the spring semester.”
With the spotlight on developing a COVID-19 vaccine, don’t let the vaccines we already have — like the flu shot — be sidelined.
So, what exactly is the influenza vaccination?
The influenza vaccination is a shot given with a needle, usually in the arm, that contains a mixture of inactivated — and thus non-harmful — influenza viruses.
The 2020-2021 seasonal influenza vaccine will include dead viruses from strains that CDC research indicates will be the most common during the upcoming flu season.
Vaccines work to develop immunity to a specific virus by imitating that infection. An infection occurs when a virus invades, attacks and multiplies in the body. When injected with a vaccine, the body responds to what it believes to be an infection by producing T-lymphocytes, the type of defensive white blood cell that attacks infected cells in the body, and antibodies, proteins that bind to and kill viral cells.
In other words, a vaccine causes your body to create the necessary antibodies to help fight off potential infection.
The flu is a vaccine-preventable disease. If 90% of the USC and Los Angeles community get the flu shot, 10s of thousands of lives could be saved, Van Orman said.
That number is huge, considering 34,200 people in the United States died from the flu during the 2018-2019 season.
In the 2017-18 flu season, the CDC estimates that the flu shot prevented more than 6.2 million infections, 91,000 hospitalizations and 5,700 deaths. There were no available statistics for the number of estimated cases the influenza vaccine prevented during the 2018-2019 flu season.
That’s a near hundred-thousand open beds available to patients and front-line workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
One flu shot could keep a hospital bed clear. It could save your life and you could save another’s.
The influenza vaccine dates back to the 1940s when Thomas Francis Jr, M.D. and Jonas Salk, M.D. developed the first inactivate flu vaccine, using a method involving fertilized chicken eggs that is still used today. The original vaccine only included an inactivated influenza A virus. Later in 1940, the influenza B vaccine was first developed.
Two years later, in 1942, a bivalent — or two-component — vaccine was created that provided protection against both influenza A and B in one shot. There’s trivalent and even quadrivalent vaccines available today, typically to older and more susceptible individuals.
By 1945, people no longer had to walk around in fear of the flu. The influenza vaccine was licensed for use in civilians.
Nowadays, people get flu shots during times when other respiratory illnesses are circulating. So, if you experience symptoms of respiratory illness, that does not mean they’re related to the influenza vaccine.
“Correlation is not causation,” Van Orman said.
Even with an influenza vaccine, there is still a low chance of infection, but the severity of the infection is lessened.
“What we know is [that] in people who have a flu shot, even if they still get the flu, their likelihood of having a severe case, their likelihood of being hospitalized, their likelihood of spreading it to others, their likely point of having medical complications goes way, way down,” Van Orman said.
Like COVID-19, the flu is often spread before someone develops symptoms. The flu shot also helps prevent this, halting the spread by allowing your body to fight off the infection before it becomes an illness.
The flu shot is free at USC Engemann Student Health Center under the USC health insurance. Otherwise, the shot costs $20.
If you have a different type of insurance, try CVS Pharmacy within the Target in the USC Village. A flu shot comes at no cost with most insurances.
Exemption forms are available for religious and medical reasons, but Van Orman said medical exemptions from the flu shot are “very, very rare.”
Flu season is upon us and medical professionals, like Van Orman, are worried about how a co-infection of flu and coronavirus will impact the human body.
Don’t let COVID-19 and the flu get to you.
Get your flu shot.