ITHACA, N.Y. –– As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, the Tompkins County Health Department is strongly encouraging residents to get the flu vaccine to prevent serious complications and the overwhelming of the local health care system.

“We know we will have both flu and COVID-19 circulating in our community this year. While we don’t have a vaccine for COVID-19 at this time, we do have a vaccine for flu,” said Frank Kruppa, Tompkin’s public health director. “No one wants to become ill and worry about whether or not they have COVID, and therefore need to be tested or risk spreading the disease. We want people to avoid getting the flu so that we are not unnecessarily placing individuals in isolation or quarantine while waiting for test results.”

The flu can not only make healthy people very sick but can also cause serious complications in children younger than 5, pregnant women, people 65 years and older and people with certain chronic health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year the flu causes between 140,000 and 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths. Now with the onset of coronavirus, those symptoms could be exacerbated and those numbers even higher.

Flu vaccines are already available at many locations throughout the community including health care provider offices, pharmacies and clinics. TCHD warns that Ithacans should get the vaccine early as supplies may become limited late in the fall.

TCHD also recommends that everyone six months of age and over should be vaccinated.

“The flu vaccine reduces the severity of flu illness and the number of visits to the doctor’s office. It prevents days missed at work due to flu and prevents flu-related hospitalization and death,” Health Director Kruppa said. “We need to prepare as a community for flu season…Getting your flu shot is an important measure you can take to protect yourself, your loved ones, and others.”

Many signs of flu can come on suddenly and closely resemble those of COVID-19. They include fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches. The signs of complications and emergency warning signs that are important to know are:

In children:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Ribs pulling in with each breath
  • Chest and severe muscle pain
  • Dehydration
  • Fever above 104°F, or any fever in an infant less than 12 weeks of age

In adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Persistent dizziness or confusion
  • Seizures

If you experience any of these warning signs, seek medical care immediately. Flu symptoms are fully described on this CDC website and COVID-19 symptoms on the NYS Department of Health website.

To get a flu shot, call your primary care provider, 2-1-1, or check with your pharmacy. You can also use the Vaccine Finder to find a location near you. At this time, the Health Department is not scheduling flu shots or other immunizations at their clinic.

Most health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover the cost of an annual flu vaccination. Children may qualify for a free vaccine through the federal Vaccines for Children program. If you do not have insurance or your insurance is not accepted, you may need to pay the cost at the time of appointment. Call 211 to speak with a Health Insurance Navigator, or make an appointment online.

For more information go to the Health Department website.

You can also find TCHD on Facebook and Twitter.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com