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Experts stress importance of flu vaccination during coronavirus pandemic

How can we stay safe during flu season and the coronavirus pandemic? Medical experts are discussing treatment updates, vaccines and the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19.

How can you and your loved ones safely navigate the flu season amid the coronavirus pandemic?

Start by using a little bit of common sense, said a panel of experts speaking on a Newsday Live webinar Wednesday.

Getting a flu vaccine is the first step, the experts said. Remaining vigilant about self-protection by wearing a mask, maintaining social-distancing protocols and hand-washing. Also maintaining a healthy diet and consulting with a physician about dietary supplements to ensure good health may help as well, they said.

It's possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. With COVID-19 vaccines still in the development stage, a realistic timetable for a reliable vaccine is probably in the fall-winter of 2021-22, the experts agreed.

The panel for the webinar, titled Navigating Flu Season During a Pandemic, included: Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of division of pediatric infectious diseases, Stony Brook Children's Hospital; Dr. Patrick O'Shaughnessy, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Catholic Health Services of Long Island; and Dr. Salvatore Pardo, chairman of the Emergency Department at Long Island Jewish. Nachman also has been appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to a clinical advisory task force, comprised of scientists, researchers and clinicians, studying the safety and efficacy of any potential vaccines because, as she said, "it's really important for the public to understand" what vaccine New Yorkers may be asked to take — and what are its potential side effects.

Pardo said that because it's possible to get "multiple viruses at the same time," it's important to get a flu shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that for the 2019-2020 flu season, there were between 39 million and 56 million cases of the flu and between 24,000 and 62,000 flu deaths in the United States.To date, there have been 7.22 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, with more than 206,000 deaths.

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O'Shaughnessy said to consider taking supplements like vitamin B and C that "can convey some degree of benefit" and naturally "boost your immunity." But he also warned some supplements can interact with prescribed medicines — and should not be taken without consulting a physician.

Nachman stressed that, especially for children, a nutritious diet is better than supplements.

The panel warned that you could be asymptomatic and not appear to be infected with flu or COVID.

"You might say, 'Hey, it's not affecting me.' But, it could affect your loved ones," Pardo said.

Although Nachman said experts didn't think COVID-19 would be "a one-and-done" type viral illness, even after there was a successful vaccine, she did believe that eventually we should be able to return to an environment where it's not necessary to wear masks. "We've never effectively gotten rid of the flu," she said. "I think coronavirus is going to be similar."

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