“Though we don’t yet have a vaccine for COVID, we do have a tool to prevent influenza,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a recent podcast interview.
The four manufacturers of flu vaccines have confirmed that they will send roughly 200 million doses across the U.S. this year—which is 19% higher than last season.
AstraZeneca, the maker of the FluMist nasal spray vaccine, noted that it’s ramping up production by 25% due to expected increased demand this year.
Fewer than half of U.S. adults and about 60% of children typically get the flu shot each year, according to CDC’s 2018-2019 data. The shot’s effectiveness ranges from 20% to 60% each season—depending on the types of strains circulating.
Public health experts and doctors would like to see higher vaccination numbers this year in a bid to lessen the burden on clinics and hospitals already overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
On average, between 9 and 45 million Americans catch the flu each year, which leads to anywhere between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths. According to the CDC, between October 2019 and April 2020, there were an estimated 39 to 56 million influenza infections and 24,000 to 62,000 fatalities.
“The last thing we want on top of that now is to have beds that could go to COVID patients be used for influenza patients, ventilators that may be needed for COVID patients now have to be also diverted to influenza,” Dr. Jose Romero, a pediatric infection diseases specialist and interim director of the Arkansas Department of Health, told CNBC.
Public health officials and doctors are becoming increasingly cautious as they enter the uncharted waters of the fast-approaching flu season on top of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which is accelerating again in some states.
“That’s another reason for getting the flu vaccine this year,” Romero said.
“You don’t want to get COVID on top of flu or flu on top of COVID because we don’t know what the clinical manifestations will be. We can only surmise or guess that they could be additive and it could be detrimental.”
The U.S. has the most cases by far, with nearly 4.8 million confirmed infections and more than 156,000 deaths.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.