PLATSBURGH – As influenza season approaches, the potential for influenza and COVID cases to overwhelm local health systems is also increasing.
That’s why Dr Ashley Bernotas, a family physician at the Hudson Headwaters Health Network’s Plattsburgh Family Health Center, is strongly encouraging those eligible to get vaccinated against the viruses that cause both diseases.
People 12 years of age or older can be vaccinated against COVID-19, and anyone over six months of age can get the flu shot.
The ramifications of COVID have been seen nationwide, Bernotas said, highlighting how, in some states, intensive care units are filling up with COVID patients.
“So by getting your flu shot you are less likely to end up hospitalized with it and therefore less likely to require intensive care that is currently used to treat COVID patients. “ she said.
Sure to get both
Although she has not seen an event in her own patients, Bernotas has confirmed that it is possible to contract both COVID-19 and the flu.
The symptoms of the two viruses are very similar and can include cough, sore throat, fever, runny nose, body aches and chills, she added.
The current recommendation for those with these symptoms is to get tested. Bernotas noted that most places test for both influenza and COVID.
Likewise, places like pharmacies that offer both injections can administer them at the same time, she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released guidelines for co-administering vaccines.
Bernotas claimed it was safe to do so, noting how she saw one of her patients after receiving both injections.
“She did well – no problem”, she said, adding that the two vaccines don’t seem to make the side effects of the other worse.
“You have pretty much the same side effects as when you get either one.”
More cases expected
According to the CDC’s 2020-2021 influenza season summary, influenza activity was unusually low last season, with just 0.2% of respiratory samples testing positive for an influenza virus, compared to peaks in recent years of between 26.2% and 30.3%.
Bernotas said a higher number of flu cases compared is expected this year as most COVID-related mask warrants have been lifted and people are leaving their homes more often.
The best time to get a flu shot is before October, when the flu season usually begins, she added.
Although children under the age of 12 cannot currently get the COVID-19 vaccine, getting them vaccinated against the flu will help reduce the burden of influenza in schools, according to Bernotas.
“Vaccination against any virus at this point will help reduce children having to stay out of school or possibly isolate others for COVID exclusions, as the symptoms (flu and COVID) overlap so significantly.”
Bernotas estimates that most of his patients are vaccinated against COVID-19, although demand has slowed. She directed those who asked her about the flu shot to pharmacies until Hudson Headwaters received her supply, which could be this week, according to community relations manager Jane Hooper.
If a patient has not yet received their COVID vaccine, Bernotas asks why and, if open, discusses it with him.
“I managed to guide at least a dozen patients to get vaccinated after I sat there and answered their questions” she said.
“It’s hard work but it’s worth it.”