Taking Our Shot: Why Showing Up to Get the Flu Shot this Season Could Make Millennials the Heroines of the Coronavirus Pandemic Story

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By: Melissa Schenkman MPH, MSJ

Let’s be honest; none of us like bad press. But throughout the coronavirus pandemic millennials have received lots of it. Now, we have a real opportunity to turn scenes of large gatherings with little social distancing and little mask wearing into something positive, as we begin this flu season.

And, we need to seize it! In fact, we need the flu shot now more than ever for the sake of our family, friends, community, and ourselves. After all, it will be difficult for patients and doctors to differentiate between the flu and COVID-19—also a respiratory virus—that can present with many of the flu’s same symptoms.

Did you and your friends get a flu shot last year?

According to an American Academy of Family Physicians survey, two months into the 2019-2020 flu season, 55% of millennials had not been vaccinated. One of their top reasons: “they didn’t have time.” It’s what Generation Y was twice as likely to give as their excuse for skipping the vaccine compared with Generation X and three times more likely than baby boomers.

The survey also showed millennials to be the least informed group when it came to knowing influenza’s health risks, with 86% of those surveyed getting at least one fact wrong and 31% getting them all wrong.

Yikes! Not a good showing for us. We can definitely do better and stand to learn more.

Remember at the start of 2020, millennials officially became the largest living generation. By getting vaccinated in large numbers, we can be the key to making this year unlike any other, have a positive spin, and lower the number of flu cases in the midst of this terrible pandemic.

So, let’s make the time to learn more about the flu virus and get our shot—only a few minutes out your whole day.

To help us in this effort, YMyHealth connected with infectious disease specialist and 30-something, Dr. David Serota, and 20-something, vaccine supporter and COVID-19 vaccine trial volunteer, Skyler Tracy Mener.

Risky Business

While the flu may be less deadly than COVID-19 for young people with few medical problems, it’s far from harmless, Dr. Serota says.

David Serota, MD, is an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in the division of Infectious Diseases.

Influenza can cause high fevers, fatigue, and even respiratory failure. It can also, less commonly, affect the brain and the heart. So, if we choose not to get the vaccine and contract the flu, these are the potential health risks we are facing.

“Similar to COVID-19, people with the flu can develop severe lung inflammation called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can lead to permanent lung damage or death,“ Serota says.

Skyler Tracy Mener has learned a lot about the health risks of the flu and COVID-19. The twenty-something, who is a huge vaccine advocate, is currently participating in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial. It’s an experience that has opened her eyes about how important vaccines are for keeping the general public safe.

Skyler Tracy Mener is a student studying social work in Pennsylvania. She is a big believer in taking care of yourself through healthy eating, exercise, and getting vaccines.

“Vaccines have helped protect people against potentially deadly and life-altering diseases including polio, mumps, measles, rubella, tetanus, chicken pox, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and smallpox,” Mener says. “It’s really important for people in their 20s and 30s to get their flu shots. It doesn’t matter that they are young, they can still get the flu and it has the potential to be deadly.”

“The Spanish flu actually killed way more young people than it did elderly,” she added. Dr. Serota agreed that “in some years the flu strain has a particular predilection for young people; this occurred in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.”

A Season Like No Other

While healthcare professionals recommend getting a flu shot every year, it’s especially important that millennials do their part in getting vaccinated this year to help reduce the burdens on the healthcare system.

The concern is that the country will end up having what’s been called a ‘twin-demic.’ It means a very bad scenario where we would have a rise in COVID-19 cases and a severe flu season at the same time when both viruses already have overlapping symptoms.

“We expect to see a fall surge in COVID-19 cases as the air dries and people spend more time indoors.  Any little thing we can do to reduce the number of patients with respiratory infections and sick people, in general, who need healthcare will be important,” Serota says.

Him along with his colleagues are bracing for a healthcare system that they expect to be stretched too thin.

Telling Them Apart

While influenza and COVID-19 have several symptoms in common, they have some major differences. 

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Transmissibility. COVID-19 is more easily transmissible (aka. spread) from one person to another, than influenza. 

“If you keep up the physical distancing, masking, and hand hygiene measures we all know and love from COVID-19, these will also reduce transmission of flu,” Dr. Serota advises.

Duration and Impact. On average, the symptoms of COVID-19 last longer than the flu. COVID-19 also affects more organ symptoms and seems more likely to have long-term effects on the body.

Recovery.  Most people who get the flu will fully recover and have no long-term problems. On the other hand, COVID-19 is still so new that no one knows what the long-term consequences of the virus are or what proportion of the people who get infected will experience these long-lasting effects, Dr. Serota points out.

For more information on COVID-19 and flu symptoms, visit this web page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s site.

What You Need to Know

Dr. Serota sees adult patients with all types of infectious diseases in the hospital and in the clinic with a focus on treating people living with HIV.

As we all begin the 2020-2021 flu season, here are the top three things millennials should keep in mind when it comes to the flu vaccine, according to Dr. Serota.

  • The level of protection from the flu shot changes year to year, but it always provides some protection, which is important on a population level. Remember even if the chance that a flu vaccine benefits you individually is small, you’re helping society by getting it—something that’s a very millennial thing to do since we’re all about caring about the world around us.
  • In a time of expected surging COVID-19 cases, it’s especially important that we do everything possible to minimize the burden of influenza on the healthcare system
  • It is possible to get both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, and although we don’t have much data on how these two infections interact, I’d expect having both to be worse than having either one alone.

For more interesting information on the flu, check out YMyHealth’s 2019 article here.

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