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Hudson Headwaters doctor recommends both COVID and flu shots

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Dr. Ashley Bernotas

Hudson Headwaters Health Network physician Dr. Ashley Bernotas speaks with a patient at Plattsburgh Family Health. Bernotas highly recommends that those who are eligible get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and influenza.

PLATTSBURGH — As flu season approaches, so does the potential for both flu and COVID cases to overwhelm local health care systems.

That’s why Dr. Ashley Bernotas, a family medicine physician at Hudson Headwaters Health Network’s Plattsburgh Family Health center, is encouraging those eligible to get vaccinated against the viruses that cause both illnesses.

Individuals age 12 or older are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and anyone older than 6 months can get the flu shot.

The ramifications of COVID have been seen nationwide, Bernotas said, pointing to how, in some states, intensive care units are filling up with COVID patients.

“So, in getting vaccinated against influenza, you are less likely to end up hospitalized with it and thus less likely to require intensive care that’s being used currently to treat the COVID patients,” she said.

Safe to get both

Though she has not seen an occurrence among her own patients, Bernotas confirmed it is possible to contract both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

Symptoms of the two viruses are very similar and can include cough, sore throat, fever, runny nose, body aches and chills, she added.

The current recommendation for those experiencing those symptoms is to get tested. Bernotas noted that most places are testing for both the flu and COVID.

Similarly, places like pharmacies that offer both jabs can administer them at the same time, she said.

Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently put out guidance that allows for the co-administration of the vaccines.

Bernotas affirmed it is safe to do so, noting how she saw one of her patients after they got both shots.

“She did well — no issues,” she said, adding that the two vaccines do not appear to compound each other’s side effects.

“You pretty much just have the same side effects that you would when you just get one or the other.”

More cases expected

According to the CDC’s 2020-2021 Flu Season Summary, flu activity was unusually low last flu season, with just 0.2% of respiratory specimens testing positive for an influenza virus, versus peaks in recent years of between 26.2% and 30.3%.

Bernotas said a higher number of flu cases compared is expected this year as most COVID-related mask mandates have been lifted and people are leaving their houses more often.

The ideal time to get the flu shot is prior to October, when flu season typically begins, she added.

Though children younger than 12 cannot currently get vaccinated against COVID-19, giving them the flu shot will help reduce the disease burden from influenza in schools, according to Bernotas.

“Immunizing against any virus at this point will help reduce kids having to stay out of school or possibly isolating others for COVID rule-outs because the (flu and COVID) symptoms do overlap so significantly.”

Hard work

Bernotas estimates that most of her patients are vaccinated against COVID-19, though demand has slowed. She has been directing those asking about the flu vaccine to pharmacies until Hudson Headwaters gets its supply, which Community Relations Manager Jane Hooper said could be soon.

If a patient has yet to get their COVID shot, Bernotas asks why and, if they are open to it, has a discussion with them.

“I’ve managed to help guide at least a dozen patients to getting their vaccine after sitting there and answering their questions,” she said.

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