“Literally the easiest thing I will do today,” said Gov. Whitmer, who called the press conference to underscore preparations for this coming flu season.
“Preventing the flu will help us save lives and preserve the health care resources we need to continue fighting Covid-19,” she said. “It’s more important than ever.”
Getting a flu shot is a safe, inexpensive way to stay healthy. But in a typical year, less than half of Americans get the vaccination (just 45% last year). Rates in the United Kingdom are comparable, where just 44.9% of registered patients ages 6 months to 64 years old got a flu vaccination from 2018 to 2019. In the European Union, which committed in 2009 to vaccinate at least 75% of residents ages 65 and older, only 45% of people in that group received vaccines in 2018.
With the Covid-19 pandemic spreading rapidly around the globe, distributing the flu vaccine takes on new urgency, according to medical experts.
“Since hospitals and doctors’ offices are going to be very busy caring for Covid-19 patients, a flu vaccine can help decrease burdens on the health care system and make sure that those who need medical care are able to get it,” said Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association and an immunologist in Fort Worth, Texas.
It’s not just to free up resources for Covid-19 patients, though.
“Influenza is a deadly disease in its own right,” Bailey said.
In the 2019 to 2020 flu season, there were between 24,000 and 62,000 deaths from influenza in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with elderly people, young children and pregnant women at elevated risk. Getting a flu shot not only reduces the odds of getting sick, it often means a less severe illness.
Getting out the vaccine in a pandemic year
That requires an unprecedented effort to boost flu vaccination rates, and Redfield hopes to push US vaccination rates to 65%. The CDC projects that between 194 million and 198 million doses will be available this year, an increase of nearly 30 million doses from the year before.
To help get vaccines to those in need, the CDC purchased 9.3 million doses of adult flu vaccine and 2 million doses of pediatric flu vaccine. It’s a massive increase over the 500,000 doses the federal agency usually buys for uninsured adults.
Do not proceed without a flu shot
Flu shots can save lives. For some Americans, vaccinations are also a stipulation of in-person work and schooling this year.
It’s not all bad news
While the prospect of a double hit of Covid-19 and influenza is alarming, it’s not all doom and gloom.
So far, it’s looking pretty good.
“The low levels that we’re seeing are unprecedented,” said Lauren Sauer, an emergency medicine expert and the director of research for the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit. “While we still remain really vigilant, and we’re still concerned for flu season, we’re hopeful that we will have a similar experience when it comes up here.
But the downward trend of influenza infections also likely reflects the precautions taken to combat Covid-19.
Another bright spot is creative solutions to giving vaccinations in a pandemic, which Sauer would like to see outlast Covid-19. “Making it easier for people to get the flu vaccine is incredibly important, and a valuable thing I hope we adopt,” she said, citing efforts to provide vaccinations outside of traditional health care settings.
“It’s such a beneficial approach,” she said. “It’s beneficial for the system, but also for the individual who gets that vaccine, and our patients and our community.”