MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The director of the CDC is warning that America could be in for a difficult fall season this year, as COVID-19 and influenza circulate simultaneously.
That’s why local medical providers are already urging people to put getting a flu shot at the top of their list.
“There’s no question this needs to be a banner year for the influenza vaccine,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist. “It’s a concern that people won’t go get what they need to get.”
Threlkeld has been talking for weeks about the potential “perfect storm” later this year, with both viral illnesses going around in the colder months. He said the flu vaccine can significantly reduce critical illness and hospitalizations from the flu, and it comes at a time when hospital space is at a premium, given the pandemic.
“It’s very good at keeping you from getting very ill,” he said. “Those extra admissions and extra people who are sick and may be sick enough to be in ICUs are going to be a strain on the healthcare system.”
The CDC reports anywhere between 12,000 to 61,000 people die of the flu each season. The influenza virus starts circulating in the fall and peaks during the winter months.
“There’s a lot of overlap on what influenza can look like and what COVID-19 can look like, so that’s really going to clog the system of diagnosing people,” he said.
Public health experts said getting your flu shot is an important line of defense, not only for yourself but also for the area’s medical systems.
“Knowing that a person has had the vaccine helps in determining the appropriate protocol to follow,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Shelby County Health Officer.
Even in the work from home era, vaccination services like The Shot Nurse in Memphis, said employers will make arrangements to ensure the flu shot is available for their staffs, in a socially distant and safe way.
“Obviously if they’re back to work, they want to get their vaccinations at their company,” said Deborah Overall, Managing Nurse at The Shot Nurse. “The persons working from home have the opportunity to either come into their businesses, or they can come into the office as an individual and get their vaccination. The most important thing is that they get vaccinated.”
As the U.S. waits for a vaccine to protect against COVID-19, Dr. Threlkeld said it’s possible the coronavirus could take a path similar to the influenza virus and be a part of a regular immunization cycle.
“We have to plan on the fact that coronavirus is going to be with us for a while,” he said. “I think we have to be prepared for SARS-CoV2 to be around for a long time, and to potentially be around year to year and to potentially need a vaccine that might even have to be modified year to year.”