Medical officials predict light flu season, encourage people to get their shot
As Santa Barbara County moves back into the purple tier, COVID-19 cases rise and winter rolls in, it’s that time of year for flu shots.
While influenza is only on the back burner as COVID-19 makes its presumed third wave around the nation, there’s some good news.
Doctors are predicting a light flu season this year.
Dr. James Cherry, a UCLA Health infectious disease specialist and a research professor of pediatrics, told the News-Press that predictions can be made based on the flu in countries in the Southern Hemisphere.
In places like Santiago, Chile and South Africa, people are experiencing a very light flu season.
“The things that we’re doing for COVID-19 also work for influenza,” Dr. Cherry said. “Wearing face masks works, and that was shown in the 1918 flu. Social distancing works. So those may make the flu less of a problem.”
He added, “There’s another possible thing which I believe. Viruses have a certain amount of power, and COVID-19 is so space-taking that there may not be room for the flu. But nevertheless, we should all be vaccinated.”
Along with the flu vaccination, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have proved to be 90% and 94.5% effective, and Dr. Cherry is excited and hopeful that everyone will have been vaccinated by the end of 2021.
Dr. Cherry said he wrote a paper on the sociology of the anti-vaccine movement, and he’ll be presenting it virtually next week. When it comes to both the influenza vaccination and the future COVID-19 vaccination, the doctor said that those who refuse to get them “believe what they want to believe regardless of what the facts are.”
“I bet there’s a group of people who think they’re invincible and they may not want it (the COVID-19 vaccine), but I think that Public Health people have to approach this very carefully,” Dr. Cherry said. “With vaccines, you have individual protection and herd protection, and we’re going to need to get the vaccine to everybody to end the pandemic.”
He said when speaking with people who don’t believe the flu vaccine will help prevent the disease and are more worried about the risks, “The most important thing is that you don’t talk about safety first. You talk about benefits first.”
However, according to Dr. Amanda Scott, an internist at the UCLA Health Montecito Primary & Specialty Care office, doctors have seen an uptick in patients agreeing to getting their influenza vaccination.
“I think that people are more open to it right now because of everything they’ve seen happen because of COVID,” she told the News-Press. “I’ve talked to some people, specifically young patients, who usually say, ‘Well, I don’t normally get the flu’ or ‘I’m not worried about it’ or ‘I don’t like getting vaccines,’ so we just spend a little bit more time talking about the reasons they should get the flu shot this year and most of them, by the end of the conversation, say, ‘OK, I’ll get it.’”
She said that getting COVID-19 and the flu at the same time is not a very likely scenario, but if one’s immune system is run down because of one virus and they encounter another, it’s possible.
On top of that, it will be more difficult this year to see a doctor for flu-like symptoms, according to Dr. Scott.
If an individual is experiencing symptoms of the flu, she recommends scheduling a telemedicine visit to discuss symptoms and concerns and determine if an in-person appointment is necessary. In addition, healthcare workers will be doing everything in their power to avoid overwhelming the hospitals.
“One of the silver linings of this pandemic is that it has really catapulted our ability and the capability of our healthcare system to do telemedicine visits for patients,” Dr. Scott said.
However, a flu shot reduces the risk of having to go in and see a doctor by 40% to 60%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If you just want to stay out of the doctor’s offices and hospitals, getting the flu shot is a great way to do that,” Dr. Scott added.
Overall, getting a flu shot is a good idea according to the health officials, and Dr. Scott said she hopes everyone feels that way, and feels the same way with the flu as they do about COVID-19 and they don’t want to spread it.
“I would say that if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones, for those people at risk in the community who will benefit from you deciding to get it,” she concluded. “It’s important to reduce risk of the flu itself and the complications, but it’s mainly overwhelming the healthcare system and doing it for your community.”