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The 2020-2021 influenza season will be a strange one because of COVID-19. The National Foundation for Infectious Disease (NFID) aired a webcast that addressed how important the influenza vaccine was going to be to keep people safe during uncertain times.
The flu season is a stressful time for health care professionals as well as the health care system. The 2020-2021 season promises to be a particularly challenging one because of COVID-19, which has already stretched much of the US health care system to its limit and also shares a number of symptoms with influenza. More than ever, influenza vaccination is key, which was the main message from the National Foundation for Infectious Disease’s (NFID) webcast on influenza and pneumococcal vaccination, presented on October 1, 2020 and moderated by William Schaffner, MD, medical director of the NFID.
Anthony Fauci, MD, discussed influenza overall in the United States. He spoke about the overall burden from the 2019-2020 flu season, which included roughly 38,000,000 cases of illness, 18,000,000 medical visits, 400,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths. During last season, 51.8% of people aged 6 months or older in the United States received the flu vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine prevented an estimated 7.5 million cases of illness, 3.7 million medical visits, 105,000 hospitalizations, and 6500 deaths.
Turning to pediatric concerns for influenza, Patricia, N Whitley-Williams, MD, president of the NFID, said that children are often superspreaders for influenza and can spread more of the disease for longer periods of time than adults. With a number of schools choosing to reopen for in-person classes, this link for spreading the disease will remain. During the previous influenza season, 64% of children received the influenza vaccine, which is a significant increase over the 48% rate found in adults for the season. However, the 2019-2020 influenza season was a bad one for children and resulted in 189 deaths, making it the deadliest season for children and more than 100 of those deaths occurred in children aged 5 to 17 years. Whitley-Williams also addressed the concern that many may feel uncomfortable going into a health care setting to receive the shot by stating that doctor’s offices and retail pharmacies are following CDC standards to keep people safe from COVID-19. Many practices are also setting aside specific times for providing influenza vaccines to vulnerable populations.
Both Fauci and Whitley-Williams discussed how certain actions can help prevent the spread of influenza and that many of these steps should already be done to prevent COVID-19. The preventive steps include:
Daniel B. Jernigan, MD, MPH, director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at CDC provided some insight into how the 2020-2021 season could go using data from the season that just concluded in the Southern Hemisphere. The season was a particularly mild one. However, some of the reasons behind this mild season, such as closed schools and a majority of adults working from home, are likely not going to be as common during our influenza season. He also addressed if there was a shortage of vaccine doses, saying that some locations were experiencing a shortage, but there was no national shortage. Additionally, vaccinefinder.org, which is a common tool to help people find the flu vaccine, is being upgraded and may say that vaccines aren’t in stock when they actually are.
As the webcast was concluding, Schaffner reiterated the main message behind his colleagues’ presentations: The influenza vaccination is always an important one to get, but this year it is imperative to receive it.