Flu season 'especially concerning' with COVID-19
Demand is up for the flu vaccine, and local health officials hope that bodes well for handling flu cases this season.
“Flu season is especially concerning this year because of COVID-19,” said Christy Richards, health educator for Ontario County Public Health. “Typically, our hospital admissions during flu season increase. Our fear is that we will see a surge in flu cases and a surge in COVID-19 cases causing a bed shortage and even a ventilator shortage in our local hospitals.”
“To prevent this surge we are asking everyone over 6 months of age to be immunized against influenza as soon as possible,” said Richards, a registered nurse. “It takes two weeks to build an adequate immune response after receiving a flu shot. We like to say “Flu before Boo” to remind our residents to be immunized against influenza before Halloween. Starting October 1 you will see an increase in Ontario County and across the region.”
Last season, Ontario County saw 915 confirmed cases, though this does not represent all the cases during the season that ran from Oct. 1, 2019 to April 4, 2020. The number represents only positive tests reported to the state Department of Health — so it’s lower than the actual number of people who came down with the flu.
“Many other residents may have been sick with influenza and been seen at an urgent care or their healthcare provider, but may not have been tested. Others may not have been ill enough to have been seen at a provider office, urgent care office or an emergency room,” said Richards.
Last season, Ontario County was fortunate that no children died of flu-related illness.
The NYSDOH tracks the number of pediatric flu deaths per county. Richards said Ontario County has lost children to flu in the past. “We watch this indicator very closely,” she said.
People ‘eager and willing to get vaccinated’
Canandaigua Medical Group Pharmacy Manager Timothy Pierce has seen a tremendous interest this year in the “high-dose” flu vaccine, which is recommended for those ages 65 and up. “We received our first order of 250 doses (based on last year’s total usage) and went through them all within a week,” he said on Tuesday morning, noting a second shipment was expected later in the week.
“We literally receive 50 phone calls each day inquiring if they’ve arrived,” Pierce said.
At the pharmacy, Pierce is seeing requests for the standard flu vaccine that are on pace with last year.
Dr. Jonathon V. Lammers of Thompson Health’s Midlakes Medical Care in Clifton Springs said the demand for flu shots seems fairly high this year, and especially among seniors.
“I’ve had a number of patients tell me they don’t usually get the flu shot, but have gotten one this year,” Lammers said.
At Thompson Health’s Honeoye Family Practice, Dr. Michael Foote is seeing a greater interest in flu vaccinations this year, not only among seniors but with middle-aged and younger adults as well.
“Some patients who have typically declined in the past are agreeing to flu shots this year,” Foote said. “I think many people appreciate with the COVID-19 pandemic, anything we can do to limit overall illness in our community (i.e. less flu) is going to be for the greater good.”
Thompson Health Practice Management Nurse Manager Deborah Haitz helped staff Thompson’s third public flu clinic of the season on Tuesday in Shortsville.
She said at the first two clinics – in Victor and Farmington the week of Sept. 21 – there was higher turnout than previous years, and the demand was especially high from seniors seeking the high-dose vaccine. “Community members are eager and willing to get vaccinated,” she said.
Christy Richards answers:
Q. What should people be especially mindful of with flu season this year?
- The flu shot is safe and will not give you the flu. Feeling tired, having a sore arm or even a low grade fever after a flu shot is a GOOD thing. It means that your body is building immunity against flu. That does NOT mean that you have the flu. This is a NORMAL response to a flu shot. (Personally, I always get my flu shot and my kids’ flu shot on a Friday so that we can relax over the weekend and rest. I get excited when we don’t feel well after a flu shot because our bodies are working hard to build immunity.)
- Receiving a flu shot doesn’t mean that you WON’T get the flu. When you build antibodies against the flu it helps to prevent hospitalization and death from influenza. If you get exposed and you get the flu your body will recognize it and defend against it and prevent serious complications.
- Everyone over 6 months old needs a flu shot as soon as possible. If this is your young child’s first flu shot, they may need a booster dose in four weeks. It is critical that you return for that booster dose of flu for young children receiving that first flu vaccine.
- Flu shots are available in most pharmacies RIGHT NOW! Most flu shots currently have four strains of influenza in the vaccine. They contain two strains of influenza type A and two of influenza type B. This is called quadrivalent (4 flu strains) and it broadens the influenza coverage to prevent as many types of flu as possible. Call the pharmacy ahead of time to insure that they have a flu shot available to you. Most pharmacies in NY can vaccinate kids over 3 years old, but call ahead and ask.
- Older adults (over 65) should speak with their doctor about receiving a high dose flu shot. Older adults may have a compromised immune system and the “high dose” flu shot helps them build a better immune response.
- Our goal is to keep as many people out of the hospital as possible this flu season. Flu vaccine as I mentioned is a very important part of that plan. Flu season doesn’t stop because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Preventing COVID-19 infections is also a very big piece of keeping our residents out of the hospital. Please stay out of groups that are larger than 50 people, wear your mask when social distance cannot be maintained (6-feet), wash your hands frequently, stay home if you are ill and get tested for COVID-19.
Thompson Health continues running public flu shot clinics throughout the area in October. These are for ages 9 and up. For more information, visit www.ThompsonHealth.com/flu, and note that there are limited quantities of the high-dose vaccine available.