SEMBACH KASERNE, Germany – According to medical experts, getting your flu shot is extremely important, especially in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
MTFs will soon be offering flu vaccinations to young children and adults 65 and older, and installation-sponsored community influenza vaccination events are currently scheduled to begin in early November, depending on where you are located, and vaccine availability.
Specific event dates, times and locations will be announced on AFN, your MTF’s web and social media sites and through local installation communication channels. Once the vaccine is available, flu shots will also be offered at MTFs during regularly scheduled appointments.
"The first and most important step in protecting against the flu is to get vaccinated,” said Col. Scott Mower, Regional Health Command Europe Force Health Protection Officer. “The second is to take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, like frequent hand-washing, avoiding contact with sick people, practicing good social distancing, and staying home if you are sick. The third step is, if you do think you might have the flu, contact your Medical Treatment Facility’s (MTF) COVID-19 hotline.”
Because the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are quite similar, a health care provider may recommend testing and evaluation for one or both illnesses.
Mower says that while receiving the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, it has been shown to reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization and death from influenza virus infections which cause the flu.
“Getting a flu vaccination also helps prevent flu epidemics and decreases the burden on the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mower added. "If you are not in an active duty military unit, the fastest way to get the vaccine is to go to a local community flu drive event where it is being offered."
"Community flu events this year may be more time intensive and logistically challenging than in year’s past in order to protect participants from COVID-19,” said Mower. “We are asking for everyone’s patience up front and will do our upmost to minimize any inconveniences. Your safety and the safety of our staff is paramount.”
While flu vaccinations are an annual requirement for Soldiers, everyone is urged to get one. The Army medical community in Europe offers the vaccine to not only Soldiers, but to their Family members, Retirees and Civilians as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity begins to increase in October, peaking between December and February and diminishing by May.
Each year the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies. And while it is still too early to predict how effective this season's flu vaccine will be in Europe, the vaccination is still recommended as it may make the illness milder and prevent hospitalization if the flu is contracted, according to Regional Health Command Europe officials.
Mower said that according to a recent study, "Vaccination reduces the number of flu related deaths, the number of hospital intensive care unit admissions and the duration of hospital stay for patients who do get hospitalized."
"The study also found that unvaccinated adults with the flu who were admitted to the hospital were two to five times more likely to die than someone who had been vaccinated. The more people who get vaccinated against the flu, the lower the chance of it spreading to those who have a higher risk for severe symptoms," added Mower.
While influenza and COVID share some common symptoms, there are distinct differences.
“COVID-19 and flu share some similar symptoms,” said Mower. “For example, viral infections cause both COVID-19 and the flu. However, COVID-19 is due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and flu is from influenza A and B viruses. The biggest difference is that symptoms of flu tend to occur faster and can have greater variation. But COVID-19 is more likely to lead to severe illness or death. While both viruses can spread via person to person contact, the flu spreads faster and is more likely to affect children.”
According to public health officials, it’s possible to have COVID-19 yet be asymptomatic and not show any signs of being or feeling ill. Thus, the need to practice good hand hygiene and social distancing and use a face covering in public or when social distancing is not possible.
“For both COVID-19 and the flu, it’s possible to spread the virus for up to two days before experiencing any symptoms,” Mower said. “And you may remain contagious for at least 10 days after signs or symptoms first appeared. When it comes to staying healthy and safe, one should always err on the side of caution.”
Mower offered additional tips and advice to help protect yourself and others from flu and help stop the spread of germs.
1. Avoid close contact: Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
2. Stay home when you are sick: If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
3. Cover your mouth and nose: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.
"Maybe you've heard of 'sneeze in your sleeve' to remind you to cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow, not your hand, when you sneeze or cough," Mower said. "That keeps the germs off of your hands."
4. Wash your hands: Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth: Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits: Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.