Hospitals push for early flu shots amid concerns of severe season

Healthcare organizations' flu shot campaigns are in full force amid concerns that the upcoming season will be particularly severe.

Health experts look to the Southern Hemisphere's flu season, which typically runs from April to September, as a predictor for the Northern Hemisphere's upcoming flu season.​​

"We've seen a bad influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere, so the Northern Hemisphere better get ready," Liam Sullivan, DO, an infectious disease specialist at Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spectrum Health, told MLive Sept. 13. 

Australia is coming out of its worst flu season in five years, with infections spiking for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to data from Australia's health department. The past two flu seasons have been mild in the U.S. compared to prior years, likely due to the emphasis on masking and social distancing during the pandemic. 

"With return to normal levels of social interaction, higher transmission of flu is likely this season," Laraine Washer, MD, medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine, said Sept. 13.

While flu season typically ramps up in October and peaks in December or February, pediatricians in Southern California have already reported an uptick in cases among children, according to CBS News Los Angeles Sept. 12.

"We are seeing the flu start very early this season," Kate Williamson, MD, a pediatrician in Orange County, Calif., told the outlet. "It's very concerning that it's happening this early on before everyone is fully vaccinated."

Many healthcare organizations are encouraging the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible due to the season's early onset. Hospitals and health systems across the country have shared media alerts in recent days reinforcing vaccine mandates for staff members, touting free flu shots for patients and alerting communities of pop-up vaccine clinics. 

While the U.S. avoided a so-called "twindemic" of flu and COVID-19 the past two years, a mild flu season could still cause capacity issues for hospitals this winter, according to Russ Lampen, DO, an adult infectious disease expert at Spectrum Health, which still has about 60 to 70 COVID-19 inpatients at any given time.

"Even if we have a mild influenza season, if we add that onto what is becoming our baseline COVID infections that are admitted to the hospital, that is going to continue to put some strain on our operations," he told MLive.


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