Influenza vaccination remains a priority even as we begin rolling out a COVID-19 vaccination program

Carolyn Bridges, MD, Immunization Action Coalition and Litjen (L.J) Tan, MS, PhD, Immunization Action Coalition - Print  | 

In more than half of the past 30 influenza seasons, influenza disease has not peaked until the month of February. That said, there remains continued uncertainty about how COVID-19 and related public health interventions will impact the epidemiology of influenza this season.

It is possible that COVID-19 public health measures, including masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene recommendations in the United States may result in limited influenza activity this winter. The impact of these pandemic mitigation measures was dramatically demonstrated in Australia and New Zealand, where strong compliance with “shelter-in-place” guidance and other measures, coupled with strong, positive messaging to seek flu vaccination, was associated with very limited influenza virus circulation and success in curbing the spread of COVID-19.  

However, the United States is in the middle of a surge in COVID-19 cases during the same time when influenza viruses often circulate. In addition, compared with Australia and New Zealand, COVID-19 public health measures and mandates across the United States have varied and prevention measures have been unevenly implemented. Further, we are in the holiday season when families travel to gather together, creating more opportunities for both COVID-19 and influenza transmission. Although we cannot predict influenza’s impact in any year, these factors make it even more challenging this year. Thus, we must continue to focus on vaccinating the public against influenza to reduce the odds of a “twindemic” of influenza and COVID-19 disease this flu season.

previous article highlighted the importance of preventing a surge of influenza disease in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the negative impact such an occurrence would have on our vulnerable populations and on our healthcare systems. The risk of influenza disease is still present, and we must continue to seek innovative ways to provide convenient and safe access to influenza vaccination. This includes the use of drive-through influenza vaccination clinics, curbside clinics, parking lot clinics, and other similar interventions. Best practices for implementing mass immunization clinics are documented on the Immunization Action Coalition’s new website “Resources for Developing Mass Vaccination Clinics.” Efforts in innovating new and broad access points for influenza vaccination will serve to prepare us for the large-scale roll out of COVID-19 vaccine in phase 2 of the United States’ COVID-19 vaccination program.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidance on conducting influenza vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance emphasizes continued vigilance in offering and vaccinating all persons 6 months of age and older against influenza and provides recommendations on how to perform immunizations safely during the pandemic, including instructions on deferral of patients with COVID-19 disease.

Vaccinating against influenza remains the best way to protect against influenza. Many of the high-risk populations vulnerable to severe complications from influenza overlap with COVID-19 disease high-risk groups. Getting all persons 6 months of age and older vaccinated now against influenza will not only reduce the morbidity and mortality from influenza, but will also reduce the risk of an influenza-related surge in demand for healthcare resources already stretched thin due to the heavy weight of COVID-19 on our healthcare systems and dedicated healthcare personnel.

 

 

In collaboration with Immunization Action Coalition.

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