As a professional nurse for 22 years, I can’t recall any time as challenging as the pandemic of 2020. Thank you to all of you who have expressed such tremendous support for our healthcare heroes. It means the world to us.

We’re still here for you – ready to provide safe and secure healthcare services with layers of precautions to prevent COVID-19. You can feel confident getting the medical help you need, whether it’s a procedure you’ve scheduled or an unplanned trip to the emergency department.

But here is an important way to help: get a flu shot.

Taking proactive steps against preventable illness including the flu protects you and your loved ones – and it also protects nurses and other healthcare professionals. During last year’s flu season, approximately 25,000 people were hospitalized in New Jersey for the flu. New Jersey has stood strong as we continue our recovery from COVID-19. But our hospital teams worry that influenza cases in addition to COVID-19 cases will overburden our healthcare system at this critical time.

Seasonal influenza and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses that share many common symptoms including a cough, fever, fatigue and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Both illnesses also pose added risks for certain groups, including the elderly, pregnant women and those with certain underlying health conditions. A pandemic is no time to disregard taking health precautions – including getting the flu vaccination. If nothing else, I recommend getting the flu shot for your personal peace of mind –protect yourself with the flu shot and minimize the chances of coughs and sore throats that will inevitably spark worries of this coronavirus. Why put yourself through that if the flu vaccine can provide you a shot of security?

Wearing a mask is a layer of protection, but is not complete protection against the flu.

Here’s what else I can tell you about the flu shot:

  • Flu shots are recommended for individuals over the age of 6 months. Everyone should get vaccinated against the flu, but it’s especially important for pregnant women, kids under the age of five, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma and HIV/AIDS.
  • The flu vaccine is safe. It won’t give you the flu because the flu shot does not have live virus it in. 
  • There may, however, be some side effects – the most common of which is a sore arm. Some people also report mild symptoms such as a headache or low fever.
  • Getting a flu vaccination is easier than ever. Talk with your doctor, nurse, clinic staff or pharmacist about getting the shot.

The nurses with whom I work are flattered and humbled that some people consider us heroes for the work we’ve done throughout this pandemic. Taking care of people is what we do. Employees in New Jersey hospitals, nursing homes and home health agencies are required to be vaccinated against influenza annually to protect our patients. But even superheroes can get the flu. This is why we ask you to help us this flu season. Get a flu shot. You’ll not only be protecting yourself and your loved ones, but you’ll also be doing your part to keep New Jersey healthy, strong and moving forward.

For more information on flu vaccination, visit www.njha.com/NJFightsFlu.
Katherine Birkenstock, RN, is vice president and chief nursing officer at AtlantiCare.

Source: Nurse Talk – Star Ledger Health Section, October 2020