Throughout this year, I’ve been amazed and encouraged by the strength, courage, and compassion of my patients and their families, as well as my colleagues in health care, as we’ve united to all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. Wearing masks, socially distancing when possible, practicing good hand hygiene—in the face of enormous upheaval in all our lives, we’ve all worked hard to honor these basic health practices.

That’s why I strongly believe we’ll all pull together, with fall on our doorstep, to do one more thing: get our flu shots.

I’m a family physician with Community Health of Central Washington in Yakima (I’ve treated some of you reading this!) and I’m a board member of the Washington State Medical Association, representing more than 11,000 physicians and physician assistants statewide.

Believe me when I say, we physicians are worried — flu combined with COVID-19 could really mean double trouble for patients and could potentially overwhelm our health care system.

Getting your flu shot now, at the beginning of the fall respiratory illness season, is one essential thing you can do help prevent a health system surge.

COVID-19 and flu have similar symptoms. Reducing flu through vaccinations will help reduce the number of flu patients in our health care system — and will help us physicians better detect and manage COVID-19 in our communities and help conserve scarce medical resources for care of COVID-19 patients.

We know our patients are worried about getting COVID-19. Yakima has been one of the nation’s COVID-19 hot spots, garnering national attention.

Flu can be serious too — and its symptoms will likely create a lot of anxiety in patients because of their similarity to those of COVID-19.

While we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, the flu vaccine is here and it’s available. For most people, a flu vaccine will take one virus off the table, giving you one less thing to worry about.

Getting your flu shot not only protects you, but it protects others, especially those who are more vulnerable, including infants, seniors, and those with chronic medical conditions. If more people get vaccinated early, we can prevent the virus from spreading throughout the community.

This is not the year to get complacent with the flu — or COVID-19. So get your flu shot, keep wearing your mask, and keep social distancing.

Flu shots are free for children and are covered through most insurance for adults. To find a flu vaccine near you, visit vaccinefinder.org.

Katina Rue is a family physician with Community Health of Central Washington in Yakima and 2nd vice president of the Washington State Medical Association.