ORLANDO, Fla. — December is usually the peak flu season in the United States, but many people, especially in Florida, don't get their flu vaccine.
“To be honest I didn’t always get my flu shot, and I guess I was kind of an anti-vaxxer,” said Wendy Aguilar, a student at Valencia College.
She says she never thought it was that important to get one but the pandemic changed her mind.
“COVID and the flu are both respiratory illnesses, so I just didn’t want to have two different kinds of risks that I’m facing now, and they’re both really bad,” she said.
Health officials say Aguilar was right to get it this year. They are urging people to get flu shots now more than ever.
New research from the University of Florida shows that there may be more benefit to getting a flu shot than you think.
“We don’t have any way that, once people get infected, how do we keep them from having severe outcomes, how do we keep them out of the hospital,” said University of Florida professor Dr. Arch Mainous.
That’s the question he and his colleagues at UF set out to answer in a recent study.
They studied the medical data of more than 2,000 people who were confirmed to have COVID-19 through the UF Health system.
What they found was that people who weren’t up to date on their flu vaccine were two and a half times more likely to go to the hospital from complications from the virus.
“It puts them at a severe disadvantage,” Mainous said.
He says they even accounted for people with other factors that might put them at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19 and the results were still pretty much the same.
“After we controlled for age, sex, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, what we found was that the relationship was still there,” he explained.
The team of doctors believe this to be the first peer-reviewed investigation to document this "protective effect."
Mainous said this is good news because flu shots are easy to get and relatively inexpensive.
He said this research is especially relevant for the Sunshine State.
“We’re really not very good at having people covered by the flu,” Mainous said.
He's referring to CDC estimates that show that Florida is ranked 49 in the nation for the percentage of adults who get their flu vaccine.
Mainous hopes this research will encourage more people to go out and get it.
It’s certainly made Aguilar feel safer after getting flu vaccine this year.
“It helps me feel more at peace and definitely safer," she said. "There’s not a COVID vaccine currently going out right now, but at least I can get the flu vaccine to protect myself."
While Mainous says they're confident in the results of the study, this is not the end all, be all study.
More studies on this will have to be done, but he said it’s an important first step and should definitely be taken into consideration when deciding to get a flu shot this year.