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Medical providers say it's more important than ever to get a flu shot

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

As flu season creeps around the corner, health professionals said this season might be the most important time ever to get a flu shot.

Acknowledging that COVID-19 has similar symptoms to influenza, medical providers such as Dr. John Goldman said having a flu shot takes away the guess work involved when diagnosing a patient.

"You really can't clinically tell either apart," said Goldman, an infectious disease specialist with UPMC. "It could be difficult to distinguish the flu and COVID, so making it less likely that you have the flu will make it easier on our medical system."

Things could look hopeful for this season, however. 

The southern hemisphere has already gone through a winter in the pandemic and reported a mild flu season, Goldman said.

Since existing measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing were already in place to mitigate COVID-19, they have also helped to limit other diseases, he added. 

Dr. Matt Howie, the medical director for the York City Health Bureau, added that while the flu shot cannot protect somebody from the coronavirus, it is possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

"Your immune system has a finite response system," Howie said, adding that having both infections can be a deadly combination.

Though the flu and COVID-19 share similar symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches and shortness of breath, Goldman said if an individual loses the ability to smell or taste, they likely have COVID-19.

More:Still need a flu shot? WellSpan Health offering drive-thru vaccines

To prepare for the upcoming season, Howie said some major medical systems such as WellSpan will have testing in place to check for flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

Additionally, WellSpan will be offering drive-thru flu shot clinics to eliminate unnecessary contact between the patient and medical providers.

Individuals can schedule a time to get a flu shots from their cars by visiting www.wellspan.org/make-an-appointment/flu/.

David Catalano, left, of East Manchester Township, waits Jasmin Brown, L.P.N., sterilizes his arm before administering a flu shot during a drive-thru flu shot clinic at WellSpan Hayshire Family Practice in Manchester Township, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"I'm hopeful that this upcoming flu season will be more mild than the typical flu season," Goldman said, adding that having both diseases spreading will cause an increase in hospitalizations and people visiting their medical providers.

Regardless of whether an individual might have the flu or COVID-19, Howie said a person should stay home from school or work if they start to feel ill.

He added that wearing a mask and social distancing can protect people from both diseases.

"This is the year," Howie said. "If you're on the fence, get that vaccine."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.