Health department encourages flu shots during pandemic

WYOMING – Officials at the Wyoming Department of Health reiterated the importance of flu shots to protect Wyoming residents from influenza with hopes of replicating an unusually quiet 2020-21 flu season.

“As the next flu season begins, we know flu shots remain the first and most important step in influenza protection,” Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and epidemiologist, said. “Flu vaccines are safe and reduce illness, hospitalizations and deaths. Everyone 6 months of age and older should receive a flu shot.”

According to Harrist and others within the department, sporadic reports of flu from across Wyoming have come in recent weeks.

“Reported flu activity was unusually low over the past flu season. Looking back, it appears the precautions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 also likely reduced the impact of influenza significantly,” Harrist said. “People were not traveling as much, they weren’t socializing as frequently, they were often wearing masks and they were taking extra care with measures such as handwashing and cleaning.”

Harrist said officials anticipate influenza will circulate while COVID-19 remains a threat during the upcoming flu season. This has caused some worries as COVID-19 continues to strain health-care systems in Wyoming.

“While we are unable to predict how much flu we’ll see in Wyoming this season, we are concerned about the combined impact of both influenza and COVID-19 on our hospitals and on our state’s residents,” Harrist said.

Since influenza is a contagious respiratory illness its symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, extreme fatigue and body aches.

“Both flu and COVID-19 can result in serious illness and that’s one reason testing is helpful,” Harrist said. “Testing can help guide treatment and care.”

Officials believe it is considered safe for those eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, including recently authorized booster doses, to receive them at the same time they receive a flu shot.

Flu vaccines are especially important for those vulnerable populations such as young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and those 65 or older. Health-care workers and people who live with, care for, or are in close contact with high-risk individuals are also encouraged to receive a flu shot.

Harrist said, much like the COVID-19 vaccine, it takes about two weeks following the dose for the body to fully absorb it and be protected by it. That’s why state health officials encourage prevention rather than treatment.

“The best strategy is to get your flu shot before people around you are ill,” Harrist said.