Sunday, October 24, 2021

US health experts urge flu shots to avoid ‘twinemic’

by Lauren Niergaard

The US is gearing up for a bad flu season on top of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, with a petition on Thursday calling for Americans to be vaccinated against both.

“I get it: we’re all tired of talking about vaccines,” said Dr. Rochelle Valensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But “this year it’s doubly important” to get your flu shot, said Valensky, who received his vaccination earlier this week, as has been the case every year since he was a medical student in 1995. “We are preparing for the return of the flu.”

The pandemic caused flu cases to fall to historically low levels globally, as restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus helped block other respiratory viruses. But with schools and businesses reopening, international travel resuming and very little masking, there’s no way to predict how bad the US can expect flu season to be this winter.

But officials are worried because a different respiratory virus called RSV, which usually strikes young children in winter, began roaring back as soon as people started discarding their masks last summer.

“Is this a harbinger of a worse influenza season? We don’t know, but we certainly don’t want a ‘twinemic,’ both COVID and influenza,” said Dr. William Schaffner said.

And if you still need a COVID-19 vaccination — either a first shot or a booster dose — you can get it in the same way as a flu shot.

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The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccination for almost everyone starting at 6 months old. Influenza is especially dangerous for older adults, children under the age of 5, people with chronic health problems such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease, and during pregnancy.

Last fall, overall, as many Americans got the flu vaccine as they did before the pandemic, according to CDC data released Thursday. But Valensky was disappointed last year at the modest decline in the child flu vaccine — and at the widening of racial and ethnic disparities. Last year, 43% of black Americans and 45% of Hispanics received the flu vaccination, compared to 56% of whites.

The CDC expects vaccine manufacturers to distribute 188 million to 200 million doses of the flu vaccine. Most Americans with insurance can get one without co-pay. Options include regular shots, shots aimed at giving older adults a little extra protection, and a nasal spray. All four offer protection against the different flu strains that global experts predict are most likely to spread this year.

As well as getting them vaccinated against the flu, officials also urged older adults and people with chronic illnesses to ask about getting a vaccine against a type of pneumonia that is a frequent complication.

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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