Tennova doctors say flu shots are more important than ever this year

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — While the country is still figuring out how to go back to normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors say we must prepare for the annual flu season as well.

Preparing for flu season means getting a flu vaccine. Tennova Medical Group is encouraging everyone age 6 months and older to get a flu shot this fall. The flu shot is a safe, proven way to lower the risk of getting influenza, which can cause a severe upper respiratory illness.

Dr. Christian Lansing, an internal medicine physician with Tennova, said there really is no reason someone shouldn’t get a flu shot.

“If you’re allergic to eggs, they make a flu vaccine that is no compromised of eggs. If you don’t like needles, they make an intranasal formulation to it,” he said. Lansing said the vaccine doesn’t necessarily prevent someone from getting the flu, but he said the vaccine makes the virus less lethal.

“People who get the flu vaccine are far less likely to develop a lot of the fatal consequences: hospitalization, intubation, and sometimes death,” Lansing said.

Lansing said it’s possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, so they believe that patients with co-infection will likely be sicker and have worse outcomes.

He said he has had COVID-19 patients at his hospital in Morristown, so he knows first-hand one day a patient seems fine, but within a few days they have to be on life-support.

“If you get the flu on top of coronavirus, you’re in a lot of trouble. So, what we try to urge society is please get the flu vaccine. The last thing you want to do is be hospitalized with both illnesses, and although the flu is bad, flu plus the coronavirus is much worse,” Lansing said.

Tennova doctors said lowering the flu can also prevent hospitals becoming overwhelmed with flu and COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals across the country have already seen surges of COVID-19 cases overwhelming their bed occupancy and medication availability at some point through the pandemic.

If those surges return during the fall and winter months, healthcare providers could have a harder time keeping up with the demand.

“It’s likely that the influenza virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both spread this fall and winter,” said Kaneez Leonard-Bowden, M.D., a family medicine physician with Tennova Medical Group in Karns. “Even though flu shots won’t prevent all cases of the flu, getting vaccinated can decrease the intensity and duration of the illness.”

Lansing said said adults with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, COPD or heart disease, have a greater risk for serious complications from the flu, which means they should especially get vaccinated.

“For example, flu can make glucose control more difficult for diabetics, and those with heart disease can have increased risk for another heart attack. Others at high risk for influenza complications include infants and young children, pregnant women, and adults age 65 years and older,” Lansing said.

Healthy people should get the flu vaccine as well. Not only to reduce their chance of serious complications, but to also reduce the chance of spreading it to others who can’t get the flu shot or have a higher chance of serious complications.

Lansing said when someone has received their flu vaccine, it helps their body build up antibodies to the virus. If they get the flu after having the vaccine in their system, the likelihood of shedding that virus is significantly lower.

Lansing said many of these viruses transmit onto objects that most people wouldn’t think about, like a remote control or cell phone. He said the less virus you make, the less someone can transmit it to other objects and other people.

“The truth of it is, is that if you’re less likely to make the virus, you’re less likely to give it to somebody else, you’re less likely to harm anybody else. That’s why we try to push it. There’s an immediate of a benefit for the host, and also as a person who’s going to contract it from somebody else,” Lansing said.

Tennova Medical Group is offering flu vaccinations for current and new patients at its primary care and specialty clinics across East Tennessee. Tennova doctors say individuals should get vaccinated between late September and early November for the best protection throughout the flu season. As long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue, even in January or later.

Both Lansing and Leonard-Bowden said people shouldn’t be worried about visiting the doctor for a flu shot.

“Tennova’s physician practices are taking extra precautions to maintain a clean and safe environment for patients and caregivers,” Dr. Leonard-Bowden said. “Safety remains the highest priority and procedures are in place to enhance infection prevention, including universal masking of staff and patients, and limiting the numbers of patients at any one time to minimize waiting. When appropriate, we also offer telehealth visits.”

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