2020-2021 Flu Season: What You Need To Know
by Morgan Goldammer
In the months that have passed since the onset of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many of us have thought to ourselves, 'There’s no way this could get any worse.' Now, as stay at home orders are lifted, businesses re-open, and people gradually return to work, it is easy to feel a false sense of security. ‘The worst is behind us,’ you may think. But while millions soak up whatever feelings of normalcy they can, top public health experts, scientists, and clinicians are speculating, ‘Yes, things can still get a lot worse this year.’
Fears About the Fall
Many experts are warning about the potential onset of a stronger second ‘wave’ of COVID-19 this fall. Whether COVID-19 heats up as the weather cools down or not, most top experts agree that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. Likely, the COVID-19 pandemic will soon cross paths with another highly contagious respiratory virus: influenza (seasonal flu).
The annual flu epidemic in the United States typically begins in October, peaks between December and February, and can last through May. The number of cases each year ranges from 9 million to 45 million. Those who have the greatest risk of developing serious flu-related complications include:
- Children under 5 years old
- Adults 65 years and older
- Pregnant women
- People with chronic illnesses or a compromised immune system
Seasonal Flu vs. COVID-19
Many of these same groups of individuals at risk for the flu are also among the most susceptible to contracting COVID-19, and both viruses can also require hospitalization if symptoms are severe.
Health officials are greatly concerned about the effects of flu season coinciding with a possible spike in COVID-19 cases. It is possible to be infected with both influenza and the coronavirus at the same time; however, there is little knowledge how the two interact in the body. It is not certain if contracting both viruses can cause a change in symptoms, severity of symptoms, or recovery time. I think most would agree that having COVID-19 and influenza at the same time sounds awful.
Overcrowded hospitals are another big concern of COVID-19 coinciding with flu season. As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases this past spring surged, we witnessed the effects that overcrowded hospitals have on patient outcomes and provider burnout. Imagine all that happening again in fall, plus even more patients needing hospitalization during peak flu season.
The Case for Getting Vaccinated
In an effort to make this flu season as manageable as possible, flu vaccine manufactures have boosted production by 10 percent this year, and the CDC is stressing the importance of getting a flu shot. Anyone over the age of 6 months old is encouraged to receive a vaccine, and there are other vaccine options for individuals with certain allergies or health conditions that may interact with the typical flu vaccine.
Currently, it is estimated that about half of the population receives an annual flu shot. One main reason that deters people from getting the shot is the seemingly low vaccine effectiveness level (averaging around 40%). As researchers and manufacturers prepare for an upcoming flu season, they pick a handful of flu strains that data has led them to believe will be the most common in that upcoming season. While they are making an educated guess, what flu strains actually present during flu season often differs, thus reducing the overall effectiveness rate of the vaccine.
You may think, ‘Why would I inject something into my body if they aren’t completely sure it will work?’ It is important to note that although it is true that the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective in entirely preventing the flu, it often lowers the severity of symptoms and provides an increased recovery time in individuals that do contract the flu after receiving the vaccine. This means that people who do contract the flu have a lower chance of needing hospitalization, have more manageable symptoms, and recover quicker. Considering hospitals may already be overcrowded if COVID-19 cases surge again in the fall, keeping people with the flu out of the hospital is incredibly important. One of the best ways to reduce influenza hospitalizations is if everyone (who is able) receives the annual flu vaccination.
How You Can Help
Hopefully at this point you are thinking ‘Okay, so flu vaccines are more necessary than I had previously thought, but what can I do?’ Here is how you can do your part in lessening the stress that an annual epidemic during a pandemic will cause:
- Implement daily prevention actions: stay away from people who are sick, cover coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands frequently.
- Get your flu vaccine. Talk to your medical provider if you have any questions or concerns.
- Encourage others to get their flu shot. Talk to your family, friends, and coworkers about the importance of the vaccine.
- If you are an employer, consider offering an onsite flu shot clinic for your employees. Many insurance providers cover the cost of vaccines, and your employees’ health, safety, and wellbeing are worth any additional costs.
Onsite Flu Shot Clinics: Easy and Efficient!
HealthSource Solutions has years of experience coordinating flu shot clinics. Although work situations look a bit different this fall, hosting a flu shot clinic at your work location provides employees a familiar and controlled environment to receive their vaccine, and HSS staff are taking extra precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.