F. Castro / SFVS

Rosa Vasquez always gets a flu shot. She says that the year she didn’t get it, she got a bad cold.

Carlos Torres and his wife Rosa Vasquez credit the flu shot for keeping them healthy in past years, so this year they didn’t hesitate in getting it again.

On Friday, Oct. 23, the couple joined dozens of other vehicles for a free, drive-tru flu shot clinic at San Fernando’s Recreation Park, organized by LA Care Health Plan and Blue Shield of California.

“I get it because I’m over 50,” Vasquez said. “The year I didn’t get it, I got a really bad case of the flu.”

Torres, 65, also believes in its effectiveness.

“I didn’t use to get it and since I’ve been taking it, I never get sick,”  he said. “The doctor recommended it because I’m pre-diabetic.”

Anyone over six-months-old, and especially those over 50 and/or with chronic conditions, are especially encouraged to get the flu shot, said Dr. Richard Seidman, LA Care Chief Medical Officer.

“Young children and those with chronic conditions, including heart disease and diabetes, are most at risk for a severe influenza and death,” Dr. Seidman said.

Preliminary data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals there were an estimated 24,000-62,000 flu deaths in the 2019-2020 influenza season, which generally lasts from October-March, but can extend through May.

There were also between 39-56 million flu illnesses, 18-26 million medical flu visits, and between 410,000-740,000 flu hospitalizations.

Flu season in California peaks in January, so there’s still time to get the shot, which is based on the most common strain of the flu seen in the previous season. While the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year, it’s still a good idea to get it.

“Even if it’s only 50% effective and you do get influenza, it’s going to be more mild, so is still worth it,” Seidman noted.

He also dismissed common myths about the vaccine, including that it does give you the flu or leads to dangerous side effects.

“You can’t get the flu from getting flu shots, but you can have mild side effects,” the doctor said.

Preventing a “Twindemic”

Another vital reason to get the flu shot this year is because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s more important than ever this year because we’re really worried about the flu and COVID peaking at the same time this season. We’re trying to prevent overwhelming our hospitals with flu cases,” Seidman said.

Such a combination of ailments is called a ‘twindemic,’ and health officials are eagerly trying to avoid it. If there are fewer cases of the flu, it leaves more hospital space for those afflicted with coronavirus.

“We have a safe, effective flu vaccine. We don’t have a COVID vaccine yet,” he said.

Another problem: it’s very difficult for an ordinary person to distinguish between the flu and COVID-19. The ailments share many similar symptoms, including high fever and breathing problems, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue.

The only way to discern between one and the other is to contact your doctor and be tested.

Seidman recommends that if you start experiencing any symptoms, it’s best to get a test, and then go into isolation and quarantine while you wait for results.

Christopher Tajerian of Reseda says he’s not particularly worried about contracting COVID-19.

“I think that if you’re going to get it, you’re going to get it,” said the 22-year-old, who used to get the flu shot as a child, but said it’s been years since he’s received one.

On the other hand his girlfriend, a USC pharmacy student, worries about coronavirus in combination with the flu.

At her urging, Tajerian drove to San Fernando on Oct. 23 and got a flu shot.

“This is safer, better — why not take it?” Tajerian said. “Even if you’re healthy, you have to take precautions. Everybody has to.”

The free, drive-thru flu shot clinics will continue through Nov. 14 at various locations.

For more information, visit L.A. Care Health Plan (https://www.lacare.org/news/la-care-health-plan-and-blue-shield-california-promise-health-plans-community-resource-centers)