FALLS CHURCH, Va. - Are you taking the necessary steps to protect your health this fall? With flu season here and the fight against COVID-19 ongoing, reducing the spread of the flu is more important than ever. The best way to do so is by getting a flu shot.
“Getting the flu vaccine this season will help reduce the overall impact of respiratory illnesses on the population and decrease the burden on the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Ruth Brenner, deputy chief of the Immunization Healthcare Division (IHD) at the Defense Health Agency.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for people 6 months of age and older. Some people, like those with severe allergies to flu vaccine and its ingredients, shouldn’t get a flu shot. Talk to your health care provider to see if it’s right for you. You can also learn more about who should and shouldn’t get a flu vaccine on the CDC website.
Tricare covers the flu vaccine. You can get a vaccine at no cost in three ways:
At your local military hospital or clinic
At a participating Tricare network pharmacy
Using a Tricare -authorized provider
“If you’re planning to get your flu vaccine at a military hospital or clinic, there’s still time,” Brenner adds. “This vaccine will continue to be available at facilities through the entire flu season.”
If you get your flu vaccine at a Tricare network pharmacy, the pharmacist must administer the vaccine for it to be covered by your pharmacy benefit for free. You can also go to a Tricare -authorized provider at a participating network onsite clinic. If you go to your doctor for the vaccine, you may have to pay copayments or cost-shares for the office visit. Keep in mind, if you’re an active duty service member, you’ll need a referral to get the vaccine from any provider other than your primary care manager.
If you get your vaccine at a non-network pharmacy, you may have out-of-pocket expenses and need to file a claim for reimbursement. The same is true if you get the flu vaccine administered by a Tricare non-network provider. Be sure to follow the rules of your Tricare plan. And call ahead to see if your provider or pharmacy is offering the flu vaccine.
The CDC says, “Flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk.” Because of this, and COVID-19, it’s important for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet to take the necessary steps to protect their health. The CDC recommends you keep these healthy habits in mind:
Wash your hands with soap and water.
Use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, if soap and water are unavailable.
Limit your interactions with other people.
Wear a face mask in public and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially where social distancing is difficult.
Remember, COVID-19 and the flu share many similar symptoms, so telling them apart may be difficult. Be sure to contact your doctor if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms and are at high risk of serious flu complications. You can also call the Military Health System Nurse Advice Line at any time to have a registered nurse assess your symptoms. If you’re scheduled to get a flu shot, continue to follow the health and safety advice from your medical provider.
“If you’re confirmed to have COVID-19, or believe you’ve been exposed to it, your flu vaccination should be postponed until after you’ve isolated or quarantined,” said Ann Morse, a family nurse practitioner and registered nurse at IHD’s North Atlantic Region Vaccine Safety Hub’s Satellite Office, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia. “This is important to do even if you don’t have symptoms, because it protects the health of medical staff, patients, and yourself.”
While a flu shot won’t protect you against COVID-19, it can lower your risk for serious illness, hospitalization, or death from flu viruses. It also helps you protect others who aren’t or can’t be vaccinated. For more on the flu, visit the Tricare Flu Resources page, https://tricare.mil/HealthWellness/Preventive/FluResources. Take command of your health, and get your flu shot.