Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Ounce of Prevention: Flu shots remain key to keeping Harrisburg healthy.

This year’s flu season coincides with the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

Both infections can be, at the least, uncomfortable and, at the worst, deadly. And the combination of the two has some public health experts calling this fall a possible perfect storm of infectious illnesses.

“We’re really headed into uncharted territory with a global pandemic converging with the annual flu season,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Harrisburg-based Capital BlueCross. “Fortunately, some of the same preventive practices for COVID-19, such as hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing, could help keep our flu rates down.”

While there is still no vaccine for COVID-19, there is a flu vaccine, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people over the age of six months receive it.

“Getting a flu shot can prevent the flu or at least reduce the severity of its symptoms,” Dr. Chambers explained. “And this year, it also could help ease the strain on a healthcare system still coping with a lingering pandemic.”

While family physicians and pharmacies play a major role in encouraging people to get flu shots, insurers like Capital BlueCross are doing their part to help with flu vaccine education and outreach in the Harrisburg region and beyond.

For example, Capital BlueCross is making it easier for local employers to promote flu shots with their employees, even as many of those employees continue to work remotely. Instead of traditional onsite visits to mid-state businesses, Capital BlueCross’ health education consultants offer virtual education sessions for employees about flu prevention. The consultants explain the differences between the cold and the flu, when to seek medical attention, and key prevention techniques.

The company also is providing a toolkit to Harrisburg-area businesses to raise awareness about the need for flu vaccines among their employees, with timely messages that can be used starting in the fall and continuing through January as the flu season progresses.

In September, the message is awareness: flu season is here, and it’s time to plan. In October, the focus is on encouraging people to get vaccinated and offering guidance on where flu shots are available.

In December, Capital BlueCross is reminding people to maintain healthy behaviors even after they’ve received the flu vaccine, including tips on how to access care, such as the use of telehealth resources like Capital BlueCross’ own Virtual Care platform. And in January, the prevention message continues, but with an emphasis on encouraging others—friends, family members, coworkers—to get a flu vaccine as well.

“The flu season always brings an element of uncertainty, in that we never really know how fast or far it will spread,” Dr. Chambers said. “But having a flu season plan—and following it—can help each of us feel safer, and that in turn helps keep our family and friends safer.”

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