Influenza: CDC says the coming season might be a tough one

Published 10:00 am Thursday, November 25, 2021

The year 2020’s mild flu season due to COVID-19 restrictions might mean this year’s season could be a dangerous one. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that all vaccines this year will be “quadrivalent” — designed to protect against four different flu viruses.

The CDC’s fears that “reduced population immunity could spell an early and severe flu season” stems from the lessened flu virus activity since March 2020.

With about 200 million doses of influenza vaccine readied for the U.S. market, the CDC plans a media blitz about the importance of vaccination, how to get it and why to get it as soon as possible.

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“As COVID-19 containment measures — such as masking, distancing and school closures — are relaxed around the world, we’re seeing a fierce resurgence of other respiratory viruses, which does not bode well for the coming flu season,” said Dr. Mark Roberts, director of the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.

Flu vaccinations are deemed even more important this season because studies suggest that “increased flu-related hospitalizations and deaths can be mitigated if vaccination rates are between 20-50 percent higher than those in recent flu seasons,” said scientists at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Public Health in a recent study.

Dr. Blaine Britt of King’s Daughters Medical Center Medical Clinic said its hard to say whether this flu season would be busy one or not. “I wouldn’t venture to guess at this point,” he said. “In years past we have had some mild years and some very busy flu season. Last year we saw very little flu, but we should be prepared to see more of this year.”

Britt said anyone over the age of 65 should seriously think about getting the flu shot. “Generally speaking, that is a higher risk category for complications of the flu,” he said. These folks might end up dealing with pneumonia, which could lead to hospitalizations and, in the worst cases, even death.

“Children under the age of 5 are also at higher risk to have complications of the flu and would be highly recommended to get the vaccine,” he added.

Others at lower risk for complications are also encouraged to get vaccinated against the flu as it is a significant cause of discomfort, Britt said. “You can feel pretty miserable with the flu, and you can decrease your odds of getting it by being vaccinated.”

The COVID-19 vaccination and the flu vaccination can be given at the same time. “The CDC has said that it is okay to get both at the same time, including COVID boosters shots than many of our high risk patients are in the process of getting,” Britt said. “After the mild flu season we had last year and honestly a lot of ‘Covid fatigue’ that many may be feeling, it may be easy to forget that its out there. If you find yourself getting sick and maybe running fever, you need to isolate yourself from others and get tested for both COVID-19 and the flu.”

COVID-19 restrictions may be why last year’s flu season was so mild. ”That’s the prevailing theory,” Britt said. “Handwashing, social distancing, masks and isolating yourself when you think you are sick are things that will help stop the spread of most any respiratory virus.

“So while people were doing that to stop the spread of COVID-19, a sort of unintended effect was it really shut down the spread of the flu.”

The flu shot is available at doctor’s offices, local health departments, some retail businesses and even churches, which sometimes offers both flu and COVID-19 shot as well to the public.