Coronavirus Tennessee: Knox County Health Dept. explains importance of flu amid ongoing pandemic

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The flu vaccination this year is as important as ever with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic leading to increased hospitalizations both regionally and across the country.

That’s the message Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department, gave Thursday during the department’s twice-weekly coronavirus briefing.

“The flu shot is a very safe, effective way to reduce your risk of a disease that can be serious from some folks,” she said.

The flu vaccination includes the protein from four strains of the flu this year. It works by activating your immune system to identify the flu virus and create antibodies to combat it.

“Your immune system is pretty amazing and if you get your flu shot now, you’ll be protected for the whole season,” Buchanan said. “Your immune system has memory. … So don’t wait. You should get your flu shot now.”

Buchanan said there is no chance you will get the flu from the flu vaccine but you might feel achy or get a low-grade fever. Those side effects are your body working naturally to protect itself from catching the flu in the future.

The Knox County Health Department is giving the flu shot and flu mist at its main office on Dameron Avenue and during its community clinics. You can find more information on how to get a shot from KCHD on its website.

The vaccine is also available from other medical providers and pharmacies. Everyone from age 6 months and older are able to get the flu vaccine. The high-dose vaccine recommended for older people is not available from KCHD but is available at other vaccine providers.

The first time a child is given the flu vaccine requires a second booster shot. Buchanan said the first dose introduces the vaccine and the second boosts the immune system. She also said that when a COVID-19 vaccine is approved it will likely be administered as a double dose for the same reason.

So far the Health Department has given 1,600 doses of the flu vaccine through its clinics and at its office. This time last year only 269 doses had been given. Buchanan said the increase is the result of getting the vaccine from the manufacturer earlier this year.

Avoiding a hospital surge

A busy flu season could lead to a surge in hospitalizations, something medical systems want to avoid as they are already fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Overloaded hospital systems could ultimately have dire consequences.

It is especially important regionally to get vaccinated for the flu as hospitalizations continue to climb despite falling the past two days among Knox County residents. Buchanan said the burden of COVID-19 is probably as high as it has ever been.

“We have more cases in our community,” she said. “We probably have more cases than we’re even seeing in our community because (testing) positivity is up but testing volume is down, but hospitalizations are up.”

Buchanan says testing is down likely to people wanting to avoid having to deal with contact tracing and quarantining if they do test positive. She said the alternatives are worse.

“Giving COVID-19 to your friend who has diabetes or your grandmother or your older friend or whatever who then ends up in the hospital is no fun either,” Buchanan said.

“It is important to get tested, observe isolation and cooperate with quarantine. That’s how we as a community are going to be able to stay where we are and not have further restrictions on what we’re allowed to do. “

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