This Might be Your Most Important Flu Shot Ever (VOX).
We don’t need people with the (largely preventable) flu flooding our hospitals in a pandemic.
This fall and winter, health experts expect two types of deadly viruses to be circulating widely in the US. But they don’t yet know what the extent of the damage will be when the two collide.
In the absence of a coherent federal response, the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the country, with two states still battling active outbreaks.Experts estimate it could continue to hospitalize thousands and kill hundreds of people a day into October, with more spikes in the coming months.
We’re also now staring down the annual flu season, which typically starts in October and burdens the health care system even in normal years. The 2018–2019 flu season in the US, for example, resulted in about half a million hospitalizations and more than 34,000 deaths. The previous season, deaths were double that. And communities of color, which have already been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, historically have also been more likely to have chronic health conditions that put them at higher risk of influenza-related complications.
In the Southern Hemisphere this year, where the seasons are opposite those in the US, there has been substantiallyless fall andwinter flu activity (possibly due to effective Covid-19 measures, which can also limit the spread of other respiratory viruses). But not all experts are counting on that same scenario in the US.
Which means the months ahead could be bleak. “Based on all the current trends in the US, and our inability to control Covid-19 spread, especially in some parts of the country, I think we are in for a rough fall and winter,” Tony Moody, an immunologist at Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, told Vox in an email. “If we have Covid-19 on top of the usual seasonal rise in hospital admissions due to influenza and other illnesses, we could overwhelm the health care system.”
Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, is also worried: “Adding another half million [flu] patients needing hospitalization, some requiring ICU beds, is a recipe for disaster. It could stretch our health care systems and personnel close to the breaking point.”
One problem is that because influenza and Covid-19 are both respiratory viruses, severe cases will be treated on much of the same limited medical equipment, like ventilators. And because they can have overlapping symptoms, figuring out whether someone has the flu or Covid-19 — or neither — will be tricky but also important.
Fortunately, we already have a safe vaccine for the flu, and nearly 200 million doses are slated to be available. Access and supply issues could arise in the pandemic, but in a more typical year, some research shows October may be the best time to get the flu vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that everyone 6 months and older (with very rare exceptions) should get a flu shot. And this year, it is more crucial than ever to get one, experts say, to reduce the spread of thatvirus and keep the health care system from being overtaxed with continued surges of Covid-19.
Yet the barriers will also be higher than usual. Many workplaces that typically offer flu shot clinics either aren’t open or are reducing their size. Mass vaccination events, like those at schools, community centers, and religious institutions, have also been scaled back this fall due to physical distancing precautions. Instead, many individuals will need to get their vaccine this year by visiting their doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic, pharmacy, or local health department.
It’s clear this year’s flu season in the midst of a pandemic promises to be especially fraught. Let’s take a closer look at why that is — and why flu shots even under difficult circumstances should be worth the effort.
Why this year’s flu season is extra unpredictable..
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