The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone ages 6 months and older. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

With COVID-19 cases still fluctuating across Michigan, many people may be less focused on the flu.

But that’s no reason to let your guard down.

Congestion, cough and other upper respiratory symptoms are the first signs of flu—and it can feel a lot like COVID-19 at first.

Spectrum Health physicians recommend getting vaccinated for both flu and COVID-19.

If you’re still on the fence about getting the flu shot, consider this: It’s better to get it late than never, said Mary Zimmerman, immunization program specialist at Spectrum Health.

“If you haven’t gotten the flu shot yet this year, do it soon,” Zimmerman said. “It can take two weeks to be effective, so the sooner you get it, the better off you’ll be.”

This year’s flu vaccine is designed to protect against four different flu viruses. The vaccine is typically 40% to 60% effective in matching the circulating strains of influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zimmerman recommends everyone eligible get the vaccine, even those who already had the flu this year. The vaccine is recommended for ages 6 months and older.

“With two respiratory viruses circulating in the community at the same time, we need to be careful,” Zimmerman said.

“Anything we can do to keep people out of our hospitals right now, we should do. And getting the flu shot is something everybody can do to help.”

What’s circulating now

The community is usually right in the thick of flu season by late January, said Liam Sullivan, DO, infectious disease physician with Spectrum Health.

He’s not ruling out a surge of flu later this winter.

“Last year we had virtually zero flu season,” he said. “And we’re only at about a third of what we would normally be seeing right now.”

The H3N2, or A strain of the flu virus, is circulating in the community right now. The current flu vaccine protects well against this strain, Zimmerman said.

The B strain of the virus typically circulates later in the season.

Even if the vaccine doesn’t match the B strain as well, it can still carry benefits, Zimmerman said.

Nationwide, five children have died from influenza-related illness in the 2021-22 flu season, none of them in Michigan.

Children are especially vulnerable to developing complications from the flu—and vaccination remains the best defense.

State health leaders set a goal of vaccinating 4 million Michiganders this season, and they’re about 75% of the way there.

If you do get sick, the flu vaccine can help shorten the duration of your symptoms and your symptoms may be less severe than if you didn’t have the vaccine, Zimmerman said.

“If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet this year, please talk to your doctor and consider doing so,” Dr. Sullivan added. “Flu vaccination is the best way to either prevent flu or lessen the symptoms even if you still get influenza.”