There are many reasons why folks don’t always get the flu vaccine each year. You might be deathly afraid of needles or simply convinced they’re ineffective. However, the stakes are higher in 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and medical experts all over, getting the flu vaccine is critical to your health and there are a number of reasons why.

ESSENCE spoke exclusively with CDC director Robert Redfield, M.D., who explained that getting the flu vaccine is especially important this year, and yes, coronavirus has a lot to do with it.

“This year is particularly important because we had a number of jurisdictions where the COVID-19 infection overstretched the hospital capacity because of the number of individuals that required hospitalizations,” says Redfield. “The more that we prevent flu cases from being part of the formula in October through December, the more reserve capacity we’ll have to deal with COVID-19 cases.”

Here’s a scary but very real fact: According to the CDC, it’s possible to have coronavirus and the flu at the same time. Yes, you read that right. Though the viruses cause similar symptoms like fatigue, coughing and fever, they enter the body in different ways. So far, there haven’t been many cases where people have been diagnosed with both illnesses. However, with flu season in full swing, that could very well change soon. So getting the flu vaccine is another added layer of protection that everyone should take advantage of, according to Redfield. “What it can do is prevent infection and even if it doesn’t, it can alleviate the illness,” he says.

It’s important to note that the medical community has noticed a racial disparity when it comes to flu immunization rates. During the 2015–16 influenza season, the CDC estimated that almost 37 percent percent of all Black adults were immunized, compared with 45 percent of Whites. This country’s dark history of using Black people for medical experiments without their consent certainly connected to mistrust for vaccines in particular. Redfield says there is still work health care providers must do not only to earn Black patients’ trust but also to make sure the flu vaccine is available and affordable in our communities.

While getting the flu vaccine certainly doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu, the CDC says it can lessen the severity of symptoms. If you’re looking for vaccination centers in your area, you can use Vaccine Finder to locate where flu vaccines are available near you. You can book an appointment for a flu shot directly through the Walmart mobile app or your local Walgreens.

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