Flu Vaccine important for reducing dual infection risk, health providers say

By Jason Flynn, Staff Reporter

Healthcare service providers are expecting added complications this winter as a result of simultaneous spikes of seasonal flu and COVID-19. 

A combination of risks associated with co-infection, added safety precautions in reaction to COVID-19 and an overlap in symptoms of both illnesses mean people will need to plan ahead and take precautions. 

One precaution health providers and disease experts are stressing is incredibly important this year is a flu vaccine.


“Anybody over six months of age is at risk for influenza. Get the flu vaccine this year. If you have a pulse, get a flu vaccine this year,” Dr. Kurt Martin, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Southern Illinois Healthcare, said.

Healthcare providers don’t know yet what additional complications will arise as a result of co-infection, but there’s certainly a risk that having a weakened immune system from one of the diseases could make the other worse Martin said. 

Health providers are also having to deal with providing care while COVID-19 infections are still spreading. 

“All of the years we’ve done flu vaccine before this, it’s always been a walk-in, but this year because of what’s going on with COVID we cannot do that because we we can’t have people congregating in the waiting room,” said Annette Greer, the Director of Nursing at Jackson County Health Department. “If they say they are waiting for a COVID test, or that they have any symptoms at all, we are turning them away and asking them to reschedule. We don’t want anybody coming in who, who is sick at all or has any symptoms.”

Non-emergency clinics and doctors offices are screening potential patients with questionnaires and temperature checks. 

If it appears the potential patient has COVID-19 they may be refused to prevent spreading the infection, and referred to a center that does treat COVID-19. 

“If somebody has symptoms of influenza, they can’t come into the clinic, because those are exclusionary criteria, right? If they have fever, cough, you don’t know if they have COVID-19, or influenza,” Martin said. 


Healthcare providers are building in work arounds and taking additional measures to try to mitigate potential issues.

JCHD ordered additional flu vaccines to guard against running out, SIH is setting up testing for flu and COVID-19 to monitor both illness rates, and Martin said if patients exhibit symptoms he’ll be treating them “liberally.” 

“I’m going to tell them to test [for COVID-19], and I’m going to send in a prescription for Tamiflu. Because again, if they have influenza, it’ll help. The medicine’s pretty well tolerated. By treating that, maybe we can reduce some of the comorbidity that you would get if your symptoms of influenza last and you have COVID as well,” Martin said. 

While COVID-19 does not have a vaccine the other precautions for COVID-19 and flu are basically the same. 

“The precautions we’re taking come from COVID-19 should go a long way towards preventing the flu, or even the common cold, because we’re talking droplet transmission for those types of things,” said Thomas Cerny, Pharmacy Director for SIU Student Health Services. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends what it calls “the 3 W’s” for preventing COVID-19 and flu: Wash your hands. Watch your distance. Wear your mask. 

“Mitigation efforts for COVID should help with influenza, and I think in the southern hemisphere that has been the case. They did have a great reduction in influenza because of mitigation efforts for COVID,” Martin said. 

Vaccines are available at a variety of locations throughout Southern Illinois. Southern Illinois University Student Health Services is taking student walk-ins. 

The vaccine is free under SIU’s student insurance plan and $20 for those that opted out of student insurance. 

Vaccines are also available by phone appointment at the Jackson County Health Department clinic, which accepts most insurance. 

The Centers for Disease Control has an online portal of additional locations at vaccinefinder.org

Staff reporter Jason Flynn can be reached at jflynn@dailyegyptian.com.

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