Flu shots encouraged as second health threat looms

DOVER — Flu season is right around the corner, and to avoid the newly-coined term “twindemic,” experts are encouraging the public to receive their flu shots as soon as possible.

With COVID-19 still in the picture entering the fall, doctors are hoping to avoid two pandemics at once — the “twindemic” situation. The Centers for Disease Control defines the height of flu seasons as starting in October and lasting anywhere from March to May.

The CDC recommends getting the flu shot in September or October before flu season begins.

“The sooner the better,” said Dr. Rick Hong, medical director of the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH). “Ideally you should get it done before flu season starts. We want people to get them as soon as possible.”

The CDC offers a free resource online for those looking for a flu shot in their neighborhood. People can visit www.vaccinefinder.org to search for flu vaccines by zip code.

Pharmacies at Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Giant and Sam’s Club already have flu shots available. Flu shots also can be obtained at wellness centers throughout Delaware, while area healthcare providers are beginning to launch their flu clinics in the upcoming months.

Beebe Healthcare is rolling out a new drive-thru flu clinic, based on the success of drive-thru COVID-19 testing.

Kim Blanch, RN, Beebe community service manager, said Beebe will offer 46 free flu clinics throughout Sussex County, starting Sept. 21. Some will have the option for walk-up and bike-up throughout eastern and central Sussex County. Car-based events will follow the same protocols as COVID-19 testing events, with the proper PPE and social-distancing required.

“We’re really excited about being out in the community and offering this service,” Ms. Blanch said. “It’s best to get your vaccine before the flu season starts. That way the vaccine is on-board and allows your body to develop the antibodies.”

With COVID-19 grabbing all the headlines in 2020, doctors want to make sure the flu is still taken seriously as a threat. Unlike COVID-19 at this point, there is a vaccine for the flu which will prevent infection.

“There is something you can do to protect yourself from the flu — there is a vaccine,” Dr. Hong said. “The vaccine will protect you from flu or reduce the impact of the flu. Don’t forget about it this season. Don’t focus just on COVID.

“The same infection control measures people are taking for COVID will also protect from the flu,” Dr. Hong added. “So there’s even more reason to continue with those measures.”

Dr. Hong said it’s too soon to tell what exactly the potential is for a flu pandemic this flu season, saying there needs to be more data on the type of flu strains doctors will see this year.

There is a chance things go the other way. Instead of a “twindemic” there’s the possibility this could be one of the better flu seasons recently, thanks to the restrictions which are already in place to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“The key practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19 are similar to those that protect us from the flu — proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette and avoiding others that are ill have always been an important part of decreasing the spread of the flu,” said Dr. Bill Chasanov, an infectious disease physician at Beebe. “As we all continue to wear masks, this may also lead to less spreading of the flu virus this year as the flu virus is also spread through droplets just as COVID-19 is. It will be interesting to see the data this year, but there is one sure way that the flu spreads less this year — come get your flu vaccine before the season begins.”

According to the Associated Press, countries in the Southern Hemisphere, whose flu season is the reverse of the Northern Hemisphere’s, like South Africa, Australia, Argentina found the steps against COVID-19 also blocked the flu.

In Australia, the national health department reported just 36 laboratory-confirmed flu-associated deaths from January to mid-August, compared to more than 480 during the same period last year, according to the Associated Press.

“The most likely and the biggest contributor is social distancing,” Dr. Robert Booy, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney, told the Associated Press.

Delawareans should be very familiar with the best practices to help prevent the spread of germs, like hand-washing and sanitizing, staying at least six-feet apart from other households in public and mask-wearing, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think there’s a heightened awareness around those practices now which could help,” Ms. Blanch said. “Certainly getting your flu vaccine decreases your likelihood of getting the flu. If you get your vaccination and continue those practices like wearing masks and social-distancing, that provides safety for you and others.”

Anyone six months or older can receive a flu shot. Some children might require a booster, while there are two types of flu vaccines, one that is recommend for those ages 18 to 64 and another for people age 65 and older.

“Always have a conversation with your provider if you have a question on whether you should get the vaccine,” Ms. Blanch said.
Delaware has seen 17,349 positive COVID-19 cases during the pandemic with 604 deaths as of 6 p.m. Friday.

Dr. Chasanov said he doesn’t anticipate a serious flu pandemic this season, especially if the public continues following the protocols in place due to COVID-19 and individuals receive their flu shots.

“It is unlikely that we would have a flu pandemic this year,” Dr. Chasanov said. “Our last flu pandemic was in 2009 with the H1N1 swine flu, and the most severe ‘modern’ pandemic was the Spanish Flu pandemic from 1918 to 1920. While a flu pandemic is unlikely, we encourage the community to receive their flu shot in hopes this further decreases our chance of a severe flu season.

“Beebe has prepared a safe, quick, and effective way for the community to receive their vaccination during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. You should not fear coming out to see your doctor or receiving your flu shot. Beebe Healthcare has protocols in place to safely care for you.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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