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Although it’s still early in the flu season, hospitals around the country are seeing more and more cases of the virus, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting there were at least 2.8 million cases, 23,000 hospitalizations and 1,300 deaths as of last week.
The higher-than-usual increase in flu cases is stretching hospitals to capacity, many of which are already trying to manage a surge in RSV cases in children as well as address ongoing COVID-19 cases.
Flu, which is caused by influenza viruses, is a contagious illness. According to the CDC, anyone can get the flu and symptoms of the virus include body or muscle aches, a cough, fatigue, fever, headache, a runny or stuffy nose and sore throat. Diarrhea and vomiting may also occur but these symptoms tend to affect children more than adults. Those who are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu include older adults over the age of 65, individuals with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and young children, especially those 2 and under.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, told “Good Morning America” that one of the best ways to protect against the flu and COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.
“We are seeing a resurgence of flu. We’re seeing COVID cases tick up. But the good news is we’ve got two highly effective vaccines and the most important thing people can do to protect themselves and their families this holiday season is to get those vaccines,” Jha said. “And we are ready. We’re ready to help hospitals if they’re overwhelmed if they need extra staffing. We’re ready to manage this flu and COVID season ahead.”
Individuals can choose to get both their flu and COVID vaccines at the same time or wait to space them out, according to guidance from the CDC.
“I got them both at the same time. Totally safe, totally reasonable to do that. That’s what I’ve been recommending,” Jha said. “Obviously, if you want to keep them apart, that’s fine, but I really think it’s totally safe and very effective to get them at the same time and then you’re just done.”
The vaccines are not 100% preventative but Jha said they are effective in protecting against serious illnesses.
“If you get this vaccine, it is still possible to get the flu. These vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, but they are terrific at preventing serious illness. They’ll keep you out of the hospital. They’ll keep you out of the ICU and that’s what really matters,” he said.
Jha added that this year’s flu vaccine appears to be a good match to the dominant flu virus strain in circulation.
“It’s actually quite effective,” he said. “It is not every year but this year, it really looks like it’s a very good match.”
And for those who say they’re tired of getting yet another vaccine, Jha has this message: “It’s obviously been a tough two-and-a-half years. I think some people have gotten out of practice of getting their annual flu shot. What I remind people is we’ve been doing this for a long time. In the fall, we go out and get the flu vaccine. This year, add that COVID vaccine. If people do that, it’s a great way to make sure you have a safe and non-disruptive holiday season ahead.”