Doctors urge South Carolinians to get flu shot as soon as possible, warning of potentially active season
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina’s health department and doctors say it is even more important this year for people to get a flu shot.
Ideally, DHEC said, people should get vaccinated for the flu by the end of October, but doctors recommend some people get it even earlier than that.
“For people that are at higher risk, you’re going to want to get them as soon as possible, which is now. The vaccine is available now, so that’s our children, our pregnant women, our elderly population because they’re our biggest risk group,” Dr. Sara Nelson-Owens, a physician with Prisma Health Family Medicine, said.
Nelson-Owens said they are anticipating the upcoming flu season’s numbers will likely reach pre-COVID levels if precautions are not taken.
In the 2018-2019 flu season, 4,802 cases of influenza were confirmed in South Carolina, and that number increased in the 2019-2020 season to 6,726 cases.
But DHEC reports there have only been 261 confirmed cases in the 2020-2021 season, which ends Oct. 3.
Doctors believe a number of factors intended to prevent the spread of COVID — including widespread mask-wearing, virtual learning for students, and remote work for adults — also stopped the spread of the flu.
However, many of those mitigation measures are no longer being followed or enforced in South Carolina.
“It’s difficult to project what impacts of the flu we’ll see in South Carolina this season because, like COVID, it depends on how safe residents are being, how many have gotten their flu shot, how many are wearing masks, avoiding big crowds, doing physical distancing, et cetera,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s director of public health.
Physicians are asking South Carolinians to act with urgency in getting their flu shot because of how full, and in some cases, overwhelmed hospitals around the state are right now because of COVID.
Nelson-Owens said people should do everything they can to try to stay out of the hospital, including receiving the flu vaccine.
“Historically, in the past, if you got really sick with flu, you would go to the hospital and they would admit you, and you would feel confident that they could take care of you, right, versus now, there’s kind of, if the whole hospital’s full with COVID patients, where does the priority fall?” Nelson-Owens said.
Both the CDC and DHEC recommend anyone age 6 months and older receive a flu shot annually, and doctors said people can be vaccinated for the flu and COVID at the same time if the shots go into different arms.
“It is not too early. You can go now and get it,” Traxler said. “There’s no evidence that the flu and the COVID-19 vaccine have any adverse effects if both are taken.”
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