Public health leaders and doctors are aiming to lower the risk of significant flu outbreaks this fall and winter as they prepare for the potential surge of patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
"There should be a special sense of urgency since we know that is probably the one thing you can do this winter to prevent yourself from getting sicker than you need to be," said Dr. Oliver Mayorga, chief medical officer at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London.
Mayorga said that while the flu vaccine does not always prevent the flu, it does lower the risk and it is safe to receive. He said last year was a fairly busy flu season, with about 1,000 flu patients system-wide.
Because flu patients and COVID-19 patients present with similar symptoms and sometimes need the same resources, such as ventilators, Mayorga said it will be important to reduce the risk of widespread outbreaks.
“The concern that it can overwhelm our resources," explained Mayorga. “We want to be especially careful with public health to make sure we have enough beds for everybody who needs it.”
Mayorga said that he is hoping that with prolonged social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing, spikes in both viruses can be avoided. He said that people need to remain vigilant.
The CDC reports that it is possible to have COVID-19 and influenza at the same time. Health experts are still studying how common this will be and how having the flu might impact someone's ability to fight COVID-19, and vice versa.
According to the CDC, manufacturers have projected they will provide as many as 194 to 198 million doses of flu vaccine this flu season, which is more than the dose record set last year.
Local health districts are preparing for flu season as well. Patrick McCormack, director of health for Uncas Health District, says it is best for people to reach out to their providers to start scheduling flu shots. However, the health district also hosts flu clinics every year. They are working to determine the best way to distribute flu vaccines in the midst of the pandemic.
"We are already thinking about how we are going to do our points of distribution," said McCormack. "Probably having to do drive-through flu clinics.”
During last year's flu season in Connecticut, there were more than 3,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 79 deaths.
September and October are good times to get the flu vaccine. Doctors say the vaccine is especially important for people who are at a higher risk.
"Over 65 years of age or if they have any comorbidities which are things like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease," said Mayorga.