Health officials stress flu vaccine importance to lessen strain on public health services during ongoing pandemic
As the flu season draws nearer and COVID-19 cases rise, Yolo County prepares for the uncertainty of the combined influenza and COVID-19 outbreaks.
Yolo County Public Information Officer Jenny Tan explained that in preparation for the coming flu season, the city of Davis is trying to keep residents healthy.
“Being healthy means getting your flu shot, not smoking, eating a good diet and drinking water,” Tan said. “We are telling [residents] that they need to be in good, healthy shape so that [they] don’t get the flu or COVID.”
In addition to encouraging healthy habits and offering free COVID-19 testing, Yolo County is also providing residents with more flu clinics.
“We are actually providing a lot more flu clinics this year than we did the previous years,” Tan said. “Most of them are drive-throughs, so people don’t even need to get out of their car, which is also new this year. We have trained a ton of new volunteers to help us with the management of some of these larger clinics.”
The best place to look for information on free services and health guidelines is on the Yolo County Health and Human Services website, Tan said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report, for the week of Sept. 18, there was a decline in influenza virus circulation in the U.S., Australia, Chile and South Africa.
“The global decline in influenza virus circulation appears to be real and concurrent with the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated community mitigation measures,” the report reads. “If extensive community mitigation measures continue throughout the fall, influenza activity in the United States might remain low and the season might be blunted or delayed.”
Brad Pollock, associate dean and chair for Public Health Services and professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine, explained that this is the best-case scenario for the upcoming flu season.
“If you look at the seasonal disease over in Australia and New Zealand, they had the lightest influenza season ever,” Pollock said. “I’m hoping we see the same thing here.”
While a light flu season is possible, Pollock stressed the seriousness of the influenza virus due in part to its unpredictability.
“Trying to predict [influenza season] is like trying to predict the stock market,” Pollock said. “The problem is that the symptoms for influenza overlap a huge amount with COVID-19, and we are really stressed in our capacity to deliver health care in the pandemic era right now.”
Pollock explained that, while COVID-19 is around five to six times the fatality rate of influenza, a severe case in either has the potential to turn fatal.
“Influenza kills people—if you’ve got influenza as your base, it’s not great,” Pollock said. “If we don’t do all we can to curb the influenza epidemic that would overlay the COVID-19 epidemic, we’re going to really overwhelm the health systems.”
In addition to the potential stress a severe flu season could put on our health systems, part of the difficulty in combating the simultaneous spread of both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 is that the symptoms are very similar. This presents difficulties for contact tracing and health care professionals’ ability to prescribe proper and effective treatment, Pollock explained.
“You might give them the same advice, which is just to self-quarantine, but it makes it more complicated to do everything,” Pollock said. “And of course, what if you actually end up with both viruses at the same time?”
For these reasons, it’s important to get vaccinated so that the flu is not a major problem this year, according to Pollock.
“What people sometimes fail to realize is if you’re vaccinated, even if you get influenza, the case fatality rate is very, very low—much lower than if you weren’t vaccinated,” Pollock said. “You may get sick and get some symptoms, but your likelihood of dying is usually much, much lower. That’s the value of having an influenza vaccine.”
Pollock explained that the two sides which need to be addressed to combat both of these viruses are public health behavior—such as washing hands, physical distancing and using face coverings—and epidemiological responses—like testing, contact tracing and quarantine.
“I think that it’s very simple,” Pollock said. “SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted very much like the flu. The things that you are doing to prevent COVID-19 are one hundred percent overlapped with preventing influenza.”
More than ever, Pollock stressed that it is important for both adults and children to get vaccinated for influenza.
“If you can’t afford it or don’t have insurance, the county has many venues for getting the influenza vaccine,” Pollock said. “You want to vaccinate now before it gets a little deeper into flu season.”
Written by: Yan Yan Hustis Hayes — firstname.lastname@example.org