In the United States, public health officials and infectious disease experts have been warning that the nation should start increasing its flu vaccination rate substantially this fall in order to extenuate a potentially deadly collision of seasonal influenza and COVID-19.
Infectious disease expert at Massachusetts General Hospital Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Medscape Medical News, “When you have a collision of these two things happening at the same time, I think we’re going to be in real trouble.”
Dr. Walensky noted that nearly 45 to 50 percent of people get an influenza vaccine in any given flu season. And since we are in a desperate need of a COVID-19 vaccine, we need an increased uptake of the flu vaccine. She said, “We need to do a massive vaccine campaign because that’s something we can do something about in terms of prevention.”
In a recent JAMA Viewpoint, Prof. Lawrence Gostin and Dr. Daniel Salmon wrote, “High vaccine coverage would reduce influenza-related mortality, while also helping to preserve the capacity and function of the health system during circulation of influenza viruses and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.”
Prof. Gostin told Medscape Medical News that a bad flu outbreak this year “would be really ruinous for the healthcare system.”
“If we continue to have those COVID spikes as a second wave, there would probably be 50 or 100 percent more hospitalizations on top of those from the flu,” he added.
Other infectious disease experts, such as Dr. Edward Belongia and Dr. Michael Osterholm, wrote in an editorial in Science Magazine, “The stress on hospitals will be greatest if the COVID-19 and influenza epidemics overlap and peak around the same time.”
“We do not yet have a COVID-19 vaccine, but safe and moderately effective influenza vaccines are available,” they added. “Their widespread use is more important now than ever, and we encourage health care providers, employers, and community leaders to promote vaccination.”
Dr. William Schaffner at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, agreed to what his colleagues have to say. He said seasonal flu vaccination is especially important this year, given a potentially deadly collision of flu and COVID-19 could occur.
Dr. Schaffner told Medscape Medical News that the CDC has informed the flu vaccine workgroup of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and that the federal agency is planning a major public awareness campaign this year to encourage more and more people to get flu shots.
The CDC has also confirmed that it is planning such a campaign.
CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told Medscape Medical News, “This season, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever as it will not only protect against flu, but it also will help preserve scarce medical resources for healthcare providers and COVID-19 patients.”
She continued, “CDC is developing and will roll out new communications materials to increase awareness about the importance of flu vaccination this season, especially among people who are at higher risk for flu and COVID-19.”
Prof. Gostin noted that a successful campaign to raise awareness about vaccination would require the involvement of state and local public health departments. The article originally appeared on Medscape Medical News.