UC Berkeley professors emphasize importance of getting flu shot amid pandemic

Photo of flu shot sign at RSF
Momoka Sasaki/Staff
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, professors at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health urge people to stay safe against the flu by getting the annual vaccination for influenza soon. Students, staff and faculty at UC campuses must get their flu shot by Nov. 1.

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Professors from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health expressed concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic coinciding with this year’s flu season and stressed the importance of getting the flu shot soon.

According to John Swartzberg, campus clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology, symptoms of the flu include moderate to high fevers, severe body aches and cough. Arthur Reingold, campus division head of epidemiology and biostatistics, added that individuals with the flu can be bedridden and may not be able to work.

“While the flu shot is an imperfect vaccine, it’s the single best tool we have for reducing those deaths, hospitalizations and illnesses,” Reingold said. “It’s safe, it’s moderately effective and we should encourage people to get a flu shot.”

During last year’s season, the flu virus influenza led to an estimated 24,000 to 62,000 deaths and 410,000 to 740,000 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Vaccines help protect those who get them and the surrounding community, according to Lee Riley, campus professor and chair of the division of infectious disease and vaccinology.

“If you take the vaccine, then you’re less likely to transmit the infection to your close contacts,” Riley said.

Riley warned that the initial symptoms of the flu are very similar to the symptoms of COVID-19, which means that people who might have the flu will most likely be tested for coronavirus. This surge in testing could overburden already overwhelmed COVID-19 testing facilities, Riley added.

Reingold also expressed concerns about a “twindemic,” a term used to describe when two epidemics occur at the same time. Influenza and COVID-19 can both require use of hospital resources, and Reingold fears that hospital resources will become overloaded.

“Patients with influenza who need ICU care and ventilators will be competing with patients with COVID,” Swartzberg said. “We don’t want to be in that position.”

All students, staff and faculty at UC campuses are required to get their flu shot by Nov. 1. UC Berkeley students and employees can get their flu shot at the Tang Center. According to the University Health Services website, the flu shot is free for students who are part of the Student Health Insurance Plan and $30 for those who are not.

According to Swartzberg, individuals can receive flu shots from their primary care physicians, local pharmacies and public health clinics. Riley added that the flu shot is free of cost to those covered by health insurance.

Individuals can protect themselves and others during this flu season by continuing to practice social distancing, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick and wearing face masks, according to Reingold.

“We work against the flu, to a certain extent, the same way we work against COVID,” Reingold said. “People are tired of hearing all those things, but that’s what we think people should do.”

Contact Amudha Sairam at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AmudhaSairam.