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Flu shots could help keep hospitalizations low as COVID pandemic continues

Pharmacist Ali Lahib, left, administers a flu shot to Bernard Mathonet in a drugstore Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 in Paris. France launched a flu vaccine campaign Tuesday in an effort to avoid facing another epidemic peak as the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in the country. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

Washington state is approaching 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and health experts are stressing the importance of getting a flu shot to help save lives this fall and winter.

The realities of dealing with COVID-19 and flu at the same time

Total deaths are still relatively low in the state compared to case counts, and hospitalizations right now are not at concerning levels, but there is significant concern that all could change as flu season kicks into full swing.

Diana Sosne, union president for SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, encouraged everyone to get their flu shot at an event at the State Capitol this past weekend.

“We may not all be on the front lines of COVID-19, but there’s something each and every one of us can do to keep our communities healthy and that is to get our flu shot,” Sosne said.

Gov. Jay Inslee was also at the event to encourage Washingtonians to get their flu shot, and to get a flu shot himself.

“When we get a flu shot this year, it’s one of the most important things we can do to save lives,” Inslee said. “Not only the person getting the shot, but those around them.”

This year, health care workers say flu shots are even more important as the threats and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic continue.

“When you get a flu shot, you’re helping beat COVID at the same time by keeping people out of the hospital,” Inslee added.

The overall concern is that an increase in flu cases will require hospitalizations, in addition to COVID-19 hospitalizations that already risk burdening the state’s health care system.

“We have the tools to defeat the COVID pandemic: It is masks, it is social distancing, and it’s getting a flu shot,” the governor said.

Another main concern for flu season this year is that the symptoms could be confused for COVID-19.

“With so many shared symptoms, it will be complicated to distinguish between the two and will require testing,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County.

Duchin has recommended that anyone with the shared symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle aches, and fatigue — take isolation precautions for COVID-19 and stay away from others for at least 10 days.

Dr. Duchin: It’d be ‘foolish not to protect ourselves’ from flu, COVID-19

“It’s in everyone’s best interest to get vaccinated and prevent influenza illnesses that might be confused with COVID-19 and avoid preventable visits to a health care provider or hospital,” he said.

The flu vaccine, Duchin clarified, will not prevent against COVID-19, but it does prevent against four types of influenza that may circulate each season.

KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report.

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