Richard Pritsky, 74, beat a serious case of COVID-19 that put him on a mechanical ventilator in University of Vermont Medical Center’s intensive care unit. Now that he’s finally healthy again, he doesn’t intend to mess with the flu. “I’ll be getting my flu shot this year, as I do every year,” he says. “It will be nice to have one less thing to worry about.”
During the ongoing pandemic, it’s more important than ever to get the flu vaccine, agrees Cindy Noyes, infectious disease specialist at UVM Medical Center. “In addition to mask use, physical distancing and frequent hand washing, influenza vaccination will be an important tool to minimize severe illness from flu while both illnesses will undoubtedly be in circulation at the same time,” she says.
Experts are concerned about a “twindemic” when the seasonal flu overlaps with the current COVID-19 pandemic. While there is not yet a preventative vaccine for COVID-19, there is for flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated each season. But doing so this year will not only protect you and the people around you from flu, it will reduce the risk of contracting two life-threatening respiratory infections (COVID-19 and flu) at the same time. Additionally, getting a flu vaccine will help reduce the strain on health care systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To those who believe a bout with COVID-19 is just like getting a bad case of the flu, Pritsky says, “It’s so much worse than the flu.” After 10 days of experiencing what seemed like a mild sinus infection, he woke up on March 29 and could barely breathe. It took nearly two weeks in the hospital and five months in recovery for him to feel like his lungs were functioning at 100 percent.
“Until recently, when I would take a deep breath I would still feel a slight restriction in the front of my chest,” says Pritsky, who is back to cycling several miles per week and doing Pilates. “I got hit hard with the disease, and I think that I was able to come back from it because I’ve always been so active. It’s weird how it affects everyone so differently – I know others aren’t so lucky.”
Since no one knows for sure whether COVID-19 survivors develop immunity, Pritsky continues to practice infection prevention precautions like wearing a face mask, physically distancing and cleaning hands when shopping or working at the Carpenter-Carse Library in Hinesburg, Vt.
Looking ahead, Pritsky says he feels hopeful about his long-term health, while doing everything he can to protect it. “I worry less about things these days,” he says. “I got through this, and now I’ve got a new lease on life.”