Get your flu shot!

By Su Min, Pack  | December 9, 2020

Cover image: Restrictions at a shopping mall in Amsterdam to fight COVID-19.  Jasper Akkermans / The Amsterdammer

Although this long, unprecedented year is finally coming to an end, the impact of COVID-19 is still very similar to, if not worse than that of March.

When the coronavirus first hit Europe, the Dutch government implemented an ‘intelligent lockdown’, where schools, cafes and restaurants were closed and social gatherings were limited. During this period, most people were relatively optimistic that the first-class health care system of the Netherlands was capable of successfully taming the pandemic. Fortunately, people’s efforts paid off and the situation improved, without the necessity of the country  undergoing a full lockdown. By June, the government allowed people to be socially active again by maintaining  certain key measures. Months later, we are back to square one and it is tempting to ask ourselves: were we that naïve in believing the virus had vanished for good after spring?

 Just like in March, we are confined to our homes, with the new normal consisting of sanitary measures and continuous boredom. Many, if not all, are tired of  this reality. At this point, could anything be more dreadful than social isolation? Unfortunately, scientists warn us that the worst-case scenario is yet to come. Winter is fast-approaching, meaning that seasonal influenza is making a comeback. 

If a massive flu epidemic were to occur in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries that are barely coping with the current crisis would suffer significantly. For most individuals, an influenza infection should be avoided at all costs as it can have  detrimental effects on one’s health. However, this is particularly important during COVID-19, because two respiratory viruses simultaneously circulating inside someone’s body presents the risk of them interfering with one another. Although the mechanism behind this interference remains unclear, epidemiological interference among respiratory viruses is observed every year, and the way our immune system responds determines how serious the recovery period will be. In other words, an influenza-infected person is more likely to develop more serious symptoms when infected by the coronavirus than a healthy person.

Along with the medical risks it poses, an influenza epidemic alone puts a serious burden on the healthcare infrastructure and contributes heavily to the Netherlands’ intensive care unit (ICU) capacity during the winter. Moreover, according to the Dutch government , about 53% of the ICU beds were  occupied by COVID-19 patients as of November 2020. This could lead to a situation  where patients are not able to receive appropriate treatment at the right time due to the overwhelming pressure on national health-care facilities. 

That said, there is some hope in knowing that it is possible to avoid or at least reduce your chances of contracting  influenza by simply getting vaccinated. Although there is currently no coronavirus vaccine at our disposal, there is one for the flu. The importance of getting a flu shot in preparation for the upcoming winter cannot be stressed enough. You can easily receive your vaccine from your family doctor or in-house medical officer at work. Although not everyone is eligible for a free flu vaccine, it is important to consider it for both your safety and that of society.

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