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Ever since COVID-19 made its appearance in Iowa in March, Gateway-area residents have been inundated with health news about everything from lockdowns and revised school and work patterns to health hygiene directives.

After awhile, it’s easy to tune out and turn off.

But there is another important message we hope our readers will hear: It’s time to get a flu shot, which is especially necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses, like flu, this fall and winter is more important than ever. The CDC points out efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, have led to decreased use of routine preventive medical services. That includes immunization services.

That’s troubling, because routine vaccinations prevent illnesses that lead to unnecessary medical visits and hospitalizations, which further strain the healthcare system. Getting a flu vaccination may also provide several individual health benefits, including keeping people from getting sick with flu, reducing the severity of their illness if they do get the illness and reducing their risk of a flu-associated hospitalization, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age and older, with rare exceptions, should get a flu shot. This is especially true for essential workers, that includes healthcare personnel and other critical infrastructure workforce; people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, which the CDC lists as adults aged 65 years and older, residents in a nursing home or long-term care facility and people of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions; and people at increased risk for serious influenza complications such as infants and young children, children with neurological conditions, pregnant women, adults 65 years and older, and others with certain underlying medical conditions.

The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccination in September or October, so it’s not too late. Flu season in North America rarely begins before early October and usually lasts from December to March. In the past two years, the peak activity has occurred around mid-to-late February, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That agency says it takes two weeks after a shot to develop a protective response to the influenza virus, so it is best to get vaccinated before the flu rate begins to climb.

Many of our readers have most likely had their flu shot, while others have plans to do so. For those who haven’t and aren’t planning to this year, we hope you will reconsider and get one to keep each other safe from further illness during the ongoing COVID-19 health emergency.