The importance of getting a flu shot is emphasized every winter across the world. Influenza is a sickness that affects millions of Americans every year. Dr. Erik Johnson, medical director at UnitedHealthcare, wants everyone to remember the importance of getting flu shots this year especially.
“Even though the headlines have been dominated by COVID-19 this past year, we still encourage everyone who can to get a flu shot,” Johnson said. “If you can minimize the risk of getting sick in general, not just COVID-19, getting a flu shot is a must on that to-do list.”
Flu shots have been administered to millions since its popularization in the 1940s. Influenza A and influenza B are the two most common strains during flu season. Each year, disease researchers have to monitor and predict which strain is going to be most prevalent during that year.
“The purpose of a vaccine is to teach your immune system how to protect your body from developing disease,” Johnson said. “In the case of the flu, the vaccine is teaching your immune system how to respond quickly to the virus.”
Simplification aside, the flu shot is a vital piece of yearly medical care. Even though the past year has focused on the emergence of COVID-19, Johnson urges everyone to get a flu shot.
“With COVID-19, we recommend a similar plan to that of the flu,” Johnson said. “If you don’t feel good, stay home, simple as that. Practice good hygiene, don’t touch your face after interacting with a public surface, and wash your hands as often as possible. People who get the flu should stay home until the symptoms are alleviated, which usually happens within a week. COVID-19 is obviously more complicated than the flu, but if you aren’t feeling good, staying home is the best way to ensure nobody else also gets sick.”
Although maintaining cleanliness during flu season sounds easy enough, Johnson acknowledges the difficulty of tracking where our hands have been at times.
“The natural reaction of people is to touch their faces,” Johnson said. “There are some times where people have trouble remembering what the last thing they touched was. Just remember to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, sanitize regularly, and wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose. If we all band together and follow what medical professionals recommend, we’ll make it through not only this flu season, but the pandemic as well.”
Johnson has seen an increase in the number of people getting their flu vaccine this 2020-2021 flu season. The uptick in vaccinations could be accredited to people practicing more frequent sanitization than previous years.
“We’ve seen an increase in people getting their flu shots this year,” Johnson said. “I think that people are taking the precautions to not get sick with something like the flu in the midst of a pandemic. Practicing good hygiene is a big factor. Washing your hands seems like a small task, but it can go a long way.”
In addition to maintaining your physical health, Johnson also emphasized prioritizing your mental well-being. Although people have not been able to see friends and family this year, remote social interaction during the pandemic is key to maintaining mental health during these trying times.
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of socializing during the pandemic,” said Johnson. “Just the smallest interaction, be it virtually, can go a long way. Call your friends, your extended family. Even using Zoom or FaceTime so you can see them can help people feel less isolated during the strange time we are currently living in.”
To learn more about getting a flu shot or about the other services provided by UnitedHealthcare, please visit https://www.uhc.com/.