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Flu Shot More Important Than Ever

Dr. Keith Moss explains why getting the flu shot is important during the pandemic.
Flu Shot More Important Than Ever
Keith Moss, MD
Keith Moss, MD is the Medical Director of the Riverside Medical Group.

Carl Maronich:   And we are joined by Dr. Keith Moss. Dr. Moss is the Medical Director of the Riverside Medical Group, Chief Medical Officer at Riverside Healthcare and also a practicing internal medicine physician. So he comes to this with a lot of expertise. Dr. Moss, thanks for joining us again.

 COVID continues. We're still in the pandemic, but also we're heading toward flu season, which I understand is another concern. Can you talk a little bit about what the concern is as we get closer to flu season?

Keith Moss: Absolutely. There's multiple concerns. One of the concerns is that we now will have influenza as well as COVID as risks going into the fall and winter. We do know with colder, drier air and with people being indoors more often, the transmission risk is higher. Kids are returning to school to some degree, that too is a risk. And so you combine those things and then you have another  pathogen or another disease, influenza, and that makes for a doubly risky season.

Influenza, of course, can also be deadly. And it is something that we do see kill many Americans every year. And we have, for influenza, as opposed to COVID, we have something that can prevent it, which is the flu shot.

Carl Maronich: And so I would guess kind of the double whammy, if you will, of potential having COVID and then the flu, additionally, you're already compromised. I mean that could only be a recipe for bad things.

Keith Moss: That's exactly right. Yeah. And you can get both, so you can get both influenza and COVID at the same time and it will make for a very severe illness, especially in those who have compromised immune systems in the elderly. So again, a very deadly combination.

Carl Maronich: Yeah. That also continues to drain the resources of healthcare institutions. If they already have patients who are in beds because of the flu, and now COVID as well, I mean, that's just, also potential problems,

Keith Moss: That's correct. That's correct. In the spring, we didn't have a huge surge of patients. But in the 1918 pandemic, for example of influenza, the second surge was much larger, almost double the size of the first. So we do know that that can happen and we are certainly nowhere near herd immunity right now, meaning that we are not anywhere close to having 60% of people, who have immunity to this, to COVID. And so take that and influenza to it, and, you know, it's clearly a recipe for potential disaster, but we do have things we can do.

Carl Maronich: Sure. Historically the flu season happens when?

Keith Moss: The flu season tends to be somewhere between September and March. So that's a pretty wide timeframe, but it can vary within that timeframe.

Carl Maronich: So the vaccines are going to becoming available, if they're not already.

Keith Moss: That's correct. They're going to start to be available in probably late August, and some may already be available, and the recommendation is for dispensing the flu shots, are really more September, October so that you cover the whole season.

Carl Maronich: Sure. Yeah. And obviously, as we started this conversation, we have the ability to get a vaccine for flu. So there really doesn't seem to be any reason you shouldn't get a vaccine.

Keith Moss: That's absolutely correct the flu vaccines are safe. They are effective. Every year, we look and see if it covers the exact influenza viruses that are out there. Some years are better than others in terms of that. But in every year, if you get the flu shot, you are less likely to get a more severe form of influenza. So it's worth doing. And I think that it's, you know, six months and up is the age range. So basically everybody can get a flu shot except for the very youngest infants.

Carl Maronich: And up to?

Keith Moss: There's no end age for this.

Carl Maronich: Yeah. And, you know, I know the work is still being done on developing a COVID vaccine, so with the flu vaccine, if you've had COVID or maybe sick with COVID, are there any of those issues that would prevent you or have impact on getting the flu vaccine?

Keith Moss: No, there's not. There are no reasons for you to not get the flu vaccine. Regardless of whether you've been exposed to COVID, they are two very different viruses. and so protection against one with a flu shot does not protect you against COVID and having had COVID does not protect you against influenza.

Carl Maronich: I see. So getting the flu vaccine is something everyone who can hear our voice should be doing.

Keith Moss: That's exactly right.

Carl Maronich: You know, you see flu vaccines available in a lot of different places. Is there a better place than others to get a flu shot?

Keith Moss: Where you can get it. You know, we know that in our Riverside Medical Group offices, we have flu shots available. We have flu shots available for patients who are actually admitted into the hospital. We have flu shots available at a lot of pharmacies in the community. There's a lot at the health department and a lot of other places also have flu shots available. So there's no shortage of flu shots, you can get them.

Let me address one thing about the flu shots, you hear oftentimes that flu shots can cause the flu. A flu shot is basically a killed virus, a killed version of the virus. It can cause some flu-like illness, meaning that it causes a little bit of body aches, sometimes low-grade temps, sometimes you just don't feel right for a day or two afterwards. That's easily treated. That's not the flu. That's your body's reaction to the vaccine. And it will help you develop more of a resistance against getting the full-blown flu,

What I suggest to people and what most of my colleagues suggest as well are keeping yourself hydrated after you get the flu shot. If you need to take some Tylenol, for those who can take Tylenol. For some people, younger people or people who can tolerate things like Aleve or ibuprofen, you can take that a little bit for a day or two afterwards, just to keep yourself from getting sick from the flu shot. Again, those are generally mild symptoms, but it's not the flu. it can be a very big help to people.  

Carl Maronich: Pneumonia vaccine is available. Is that something that also like the flu vaccine, those who are appropriate should be getting?

Keith Moss: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think do a pretty good job of getting those 65 and over that pneumococcal vaccine, and now the CDC is recommending for most people, one dose of the pneumococcal 23, also known as the Pneumovax vaccine. Actually younger people under 65, especially if they're smokers, if they have chronic lung disease, they also can get the pneumococcal vaccine.

Carl Maronich: Very good. We've talked a lot about the flu vaccine, how important it is, especially this year to get the flu vaccine. Let's go back a little bit and talk about COVID itself, where we are in regard to the pandemic and what you see coming in the near term here.

Keith Moss: Right now, in the state of Illinois, we've done fairly well. We are, and I say that with a little bit of a intonation to my voice because we have seen somewhat of an uptick. It seems to be steadying out now and not going way up, which is a good thing. And it's really all of you, the public who are helping by using your masks, by practicing social distancing, by washing your hands. That's what's causing this to be less of a problem than it could be.

Those gatherings that you go to, those are the things that can really be problematic. And so to avoid those kinds of things, people think that these parties that they go to... "Well, I know people there." Well, you don't know everybody there and you don't know what they're exposed to. And a lot of times we know very well that younger people have no symptoms and can transmit this virus to you. And if you are more vulnerable, you will get just as sick as you would have if this was March or April.

So my advice to people is, again, continue to practice those good things that we're doing already. I know it's fatiguing. and I know it's stressful, but it's working. So please do everything that you can to continue down that road, because it will be hugely helpful for us, especially going into this fall and winter season where we have so much more risks at stake until we get that time where we have a safe vaccine.

Carl Maronich: And another thing you can do, as you said, get a flu vaccine.

Keith Moss: Absolutely, flu shots are critical.

Carl Maronich: Very good. Dr. Moss. Thanks for joining us.

Keith Moss: Thank you so much.