Flu Vaccinations, Pandemic Practices Are Crucial for the Upcoming Influenza Season
Hattiesburg Clinic continues to make several advances to protect our employees, patients, and communities against the flu. With the looming presence of Covid-19 and the emergence of new coronavirus variants, it is imperative that everyone get vaccinated against the flu virus.
Last year’s Covid-19 response and pandemic practices, such as masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene, are largely attributed to the low number of flu cases. From Sep. 28, 2020, to May 22, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 1,675 (0.2%) of 818,939 respiratory specimens tested positive for the flu, in comparison to the last three seasons where the positivity rate peaked between 26.2% and 30.3%.
However, last year’s drastic decline in positive flu cases have some medical experts concerned about the upcoming flu season.
In an interview with Vox Media, Stephen Kissler, a research fellow in the Immunology and Infectious Diseases Department at Harvard University, discussed how the lower flu prevalence last year created uncertainties about how the virus could evolve.
“We have no idea how obliterating the flu for an entire year affects its evolution,” Kissler said. “That might make it harder for vaccine developers to pick the right strains for next year’s vaccines. We don’t know if it’s going to be easier to predict next year’s flu strain because it hasn’t been spreading as much. Or if it’s going to be a lot harder because it’s gone through this really tight what we call an evolutionary bottleneck.”
“Here’s what we do know: We can beat back the flu with our behavior. Covid-19, in part, has shown us how to do it,” Kissler added.
Pandemic practices remain essential going into this flu season in addition to getting vaccinated against the flu. According to the CDC, flu vaccines can be co-administered with Covid-19 vaccines without regard to timing, including simultaneous administration and co-administration within 14 days. The previous recommendation of waiting at least 14 days before or after administering any vaccine was out of an abundance of caution and not due to any known safety concerns. There has been substantial data collected regarding the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines being co-administered without regard to timing.
Brock N. Banks, DO, an infectious disease expert at Hattiesburg Clinic, reiterates the importance of protecting oneself against the flu this year to help preserve healthcare resources, especially as Covid-19 cases continue to climb. *
“Though the flu vaccine will not prevent Covid-19, and vice versa, it can reduce the risk of severe illnesses and hospitalizations that could overburden our healthcare systems, which are already strained due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr. Banks said. “Vaccinating oneself against the flu this fall will not only reduce the risk of contracting the virus, but it will also help preserve much-needed healthcare resources.”
Covid-19 and flu are both respiratory illnesses, but symptoms do slightly vary between the two. Flu symptoms have a shorter onset than Covid-19, meaning symptoms appear much sooner. In addition to cough and fever, Covid-19 symptoms also include loss of taste or smell as well as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Studies have shown that coinfection is possible, and there continues to be concerns about the risk of increased severity of flu coupled with Covid-19, particularly with each new variant that emerges.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, reducing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses is important to protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe illnesses, the healthcare system, and other critical infrastructure.
As part of Hattiesburg Clinic’s mission to provide quality healthcare in an efficient and cost-effective manner, our goal this year is to further reduce the impact of the flu by increasing the number of flu vaccinations in our surrounding areas.
Initiatives include, but are not limited to:
- Hattiesburg Clinic will again offer convenient access for patients who are visiting the main clinic to receive the flu vaccine before or after their main clinic visit. Please note this clinic has moved locations and will be offered at #7 Medical Blvd., in Hattiesburg. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
- Implementing training to ensure our employees understand the facts and implications regarding the flu;
- Offering flu vaccinations throughout our family medicine satellite clinics and certain specialty clinics for patient convenience;
- Communicating with patients via phone calls, texts, and through our patient portal, Iris, regarding overdue flu vaccinations;
- Implementing patient and community communication to reduce the misinformation regarding the flu.
It is important to note that routine vaccinations should be deferred for patients with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 until criteria have been met for them to discontinue isolation. When scheduling or confirming appointments for vaccination, patients should be instructed to notify the provider’s office in advance if they currently have or develop any symptoms of Covid-19.
You will continue to see more specific information regarding each of the above-mentioned initiatives. Hattiesburg Clinic has set a goal to vaccinate as many of our patients and the public as possible. Every employee can help us reach our goal.
Thank you for your efforts as we fight the flu together.
For more information, please see attached documents or visit hattiesburgclinic.com/flu.
For more information on administering flu vaccinations and other flu-related recommendations, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.
If you have questions about our flu vaccination clinic, please call (601) 261-1620.