What will the Flu Season look like in 2020-2021
As COVID-19 continues to circulate heavily in our modern world, we as healthcare professionals have another challenge to contend with: Flu Season. Currently, the CDC confirms that labs are reporting low flu activity. With the CDC’s recommendation to “stay home” and “avoid close contact with others” during flu season, it is projected that this flu season, any “elevated influenza-like-illness is likely related to Covid-19.” Therefore, influenza may have a lower prevalence than COVID-19 this season. So, what do we need to know about the flu and flu vaccines this season?
What A Nurse Needs To Know About This Year’s Flu Season
As healthcare professionals, we are no strangers to the flu season or the preparation and safety measures we all take in order to set ourselves up for success. This year, with the COVID-19 Pandemic thrown into the mix, we may see some different outcomes and I’m sure it is heavy on your mind: what can I do as a nurse to prepare?
It is important to know some helpful facts to prepare you for what is to come. We know that numbers and data change daily in the healthcare setting, but it is still helpful to prepare yourself with some basic projections for this flu season.
Obtaining a vaccine might look different this year in comparison to previous years. For example, many workplace settings that typically offer flu vaccines may not offer the vaccine this year due to COVID-19 Pandemic related issues, such as accessibility for those who are working from home. This could increase the volume of people going into physician’s offices and pharmacies for the flu vaccine, thereby increasing the risk of respiratory viral exposure.
Due to the similarity between COVID-19 and flu-like symptoms, testing to determine the type of virus will be necessary to correctly administer treatment. This will yield a need for increased testing during this flu season, meaning we will need more nurses to assist with performing the testing. By exposing more clinicians to the virus, this can potentially increase the number of nurses and staff infected, and thereby increasing the need for travel nurses during flu season for replacement until staff members can return safely back to work.
What Does The 2020 Flu Season Mean for Nursing Jobs?
- LPNs/RNs will be needed for administering flu shots
- Surge in travel nurse demand due to:
- Increased exposure of more clinicians to the virus can potentially increase the number of nurses and staff infected, increasing the need for travel nurses during flu season for replacement until staff members can return safely back to work.
- COVID affected patients are already filling ICU rooms across the country. Even if the flu is mild, it still will drive an incremental need for acute/primary care travel nurses for those affected by the new strain of the flu.
So, What Can You Do To Get Ready for the Flu Season?
- Be sure to get your flu vaccine this year! This year’s US vaccine has been reformulated to contain the most prevalent strains of influenza expected for 2020-2021. If for any reason you can’t get a flu vaccine, make sure your facility is aware so that you can have the appropriate PPE to keep you and your patients safe.
- Continue (or start) good health habits. Take a multivitamin or boost your vitamin-C levels (recommended 1,000mg/day, especially if you’re immunocompromised). Develop healthy diet habits, such as incorporating more fruits and veggies jam-packed with micro-nutrients to boost immune health.
- Keep frequently touched surfaces, both at home and at work, clean. Disinfecting high touch surfaces and objects, especially when someone is ill, can decrease the spread of germs, therefore, decreasing the likelihood of contracting or spreading illnesses this season.
- Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing! This is by far one of the most effective steps we can all take to reduce the spread of germs and keep ourselves healthy. Use warm, soapy water for the recommended 20 seconds. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth, too!
Should Nurses Get a Flu Vaccine, and When?
Get a flu shot — for yourself, your loved ones, and your community. This year in particular, it is vital to get your flu shot and encourage loved ones and your patients to get one as well. While it will not protect you from COVID-19, it will help protect you and patients from getting the flu, or complications from the flu leading to hospitalization to help reduce the strain on our healthcare systems. It is also important to keep in mind: anyone can get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time because they are different diseases, and that is definitely not something anyone wants! The flu season starts to pick up in October, so it is best to get your flu shot before the end of October. The vaccine can take a few weeks to build up and get your body prepared to fight off the virus, so the sooner you can get it, the better!
Getting your flu shot is the #1 way to prevent yourself from getting the flu! There are different types of the flu vaccine: the tetravalent, the quadrivalent and a nasal spray. What is the difference between these? The tetravalent version contains an adjuvant, which can help yield a stronger immune response. The quadrivalent vaccine is the standard dose. There are many variations of quadrivalent vaccines available to be administered within the different cohorts of people. There is also a nasal spray for healthy individuals ages 2-49. Speak with your healthcare provider to aid you in picking the best vaccine for you and your loved ones.
Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine?
Anyone 6 months of age or older (with rare exceptions), and anyone who may be at high risk from developing serious flu complications. Those who may be at high risk include:
- Pregnant women
- Children younger than age 5 (especially those under the age of 2)
- Those 65 years or older
- People with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease
Who should NOT get the flu vaccine?
Children under 6 months of age and people who have allergies or severe life threatening reactions to the flu vaccine. If you are concerned about getting a flu shot, or have any allergies to the ingredients, speak with your doctor first. They will help guide you to make the best decision for you.
Allergic reactions and exceptions to the vaccine include, but are not limited to:
- Egg allergies (Although, most people with an egg allergy can still get this shot. Please consult your doctor.)
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)
- Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any symptoms or are not feeling well prior to vaccination.
Where Can a Nurse Get a Flu Vaccine?
There are many places to get your flu shot this year. In most cases it is free with your health insurance.
- Your physician’s office
- Just call ahead of time to make sure they have the vaccine available. Depending on your health insurance, you should be covered.
- At your hospital or facility
- As an employee of a hospital, or as a travel nurse on assignment, the expectation is to get the vaccine. The hospital has flu shots on hand ready to administer. Check with your health department within your facility for times and days, as they can vary.
- Pharmacies & Urgent Care
- Call ahead to make sure the location has the vaccine in stock and check to see if you need an appointment. Places such as Walgreens, CVS, Target, Rite-Aid and Walmart are administering flu shots. This year, CVS is offering a $5 coupon for anyone who gets their flu shot there. Target is also offering a $5 coupon when you get your shot.
- This is another resource to help you find facilities administering the flu vaccine closest to you.
What if you’re uninsured at the moment? Ask any of the locations listed above about their options or contact your local health department to see which places are offering free flu shots. Don’t forget: you can always speak with your recruiter or agency to see if they offer reimbursement options for the vaccine.
Important Facts About the Flu:
According to the Center for Disease Control:
- Flu vaccine prevents tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year. For example, during 2018-2019 flu vaccination prevented an estimated 58,000 flu-related hospitalizations.
- A 2014 study showed that [the] flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012.
- In recent years, flu vaccines have reduced the risk of flu-associated hospitalizations among older adults on average by about 40%.
- A 2018 study showed that from 2012 to 2015, flu vaccination among adults reduced the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) with flu by 82 percent.
And among healthcare providers in the U.S., according to the CDC, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC):
- 2018-19 flu vaccination coverage among health care personnel (HCP) was 81.1%, similar to coverage during the past four seasons (77.3% -79.0%).
- By occupation, flu vaccination coverage was highest among physicians (96.7%), nurses (98.1%), pharmacists (91.5%), and nurse practitioners and physician assistants (91.0%)
- Flu vaccination coverage was lowest among other clinical health care personnel (85.8%), assistants and aides (72.5%), and nonclinical health care personnel (75.5%).
Here are some other facts to keep in mind:
- It takes about two weeks for the antibodies to build up in your body after vaccination.
- The flu vaccine works best on those individuals who are young and healthy. While it is still critically important for everyone to get a vaccine that is able, those who are older, immunocompromised and have chronic health issues may develop a lesser immune response to the vaccine. This can increase the chance of getting the virus that the vaccine is designed to protect against.
- Adults can infect people within day one of contracting the flu, even if symptoms are not yet apparent. Infection to others will continue through to days 5-7 of onset of symptoms.
- Symptoms will begin to show within 1-4 days of contraction via droplets from an infected person.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Flu:
Can I get the seasonal flu, even if I got the vaccine?
- The short answer is yes, it is possible. Exposure to the virus can occur during your vaccine incubation period, or just before you get vaccinated. You may also be exposed to a different virus- one that is not included in the vaccine. Keep in mind, the vaccine formulation is made up of the most common strains, not all of them.
Can I have side effects from the vaccine? If so, what are they?
- There is always much speculation surrounding whether or not getting the flu vaccine gives you the flu. This vaccine does NOT give you the flu, but it can cause a flu-like symptom reaction. Please keep in mind that these side effects are typically mild and are very short in duration. Side effects and symptoms from the flu shot can include:
- Soreness and redness to the injection site (most common)
- Body/muscle aches
What are my chances of getting the flu if I don’t get the vaccine?
- By getting the flu vaccine, you are reducing your chances of getting the flu by 60%. Of course, this number can vary year to year.
Will the flu shot help fight COVID-19?
- While this vaccine does not correlate to protecting against COVID-19, the flu shot will protect against the most common strains of the 2020-2021 flu season, decreasing your chances of getting the flu.