JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Millions of Americans chose to get a COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccination in the fall and months later, that choice appears to be impacting flu cases now. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal flu activity is low nationally, with the exceptions of New Mexico, Washington, D.C. and New York City, where flu cases remain high.
“We still are going to face this challenge very likely in the next year or in the next few years. So, this is absolutely a way we should do to protect the public,” said Dr. Shay Xie, an assistant professor of public health at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida.
Xie co-authored a new study, which finds dual vaccinations, for COVID-10 and flu, reduce infections and hospitalizations. At the same time, he said, it could lessen the financial impact of those illnesses.
“This is going to it really help us to reduce the cost— from the individual perspective, also from the society perspective,” Xie said. “So, we want to send a very clear message to the public. We want everyone to understand it's very safe and efficient to take the flu vaccine and the covid vaccine together, so you can protect you and protect your family, protect the community.”
Dr. Stephen Thacker is seeing the effect of those vaccinations first-hand at the Medical University of South Carolina Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina.
“What we've seen is that it really tapered off and right now. We're really back to our baseline level of flu in most states in the U.S.,” Thacker said. “So many folks were making the right choice to protect themselves and their community by getting their COVID vaccine or their COVID booster that it created an opportunity to have the conversation around flu vaccinations. And it may be a big part of why we're kind of on par, if not a little bit better, with adults.”
Yet, there may be another reason, too.
“There's some interesting data there, that it's real clear that, at least in the U.S., we've become much more comfortable with getting our vaccinations in pharmacies,” Dr. Thacker said. “So, it's just better access points because we certainly have far more access to pharmacies throughout the U.S., especially when we think about rural communities.”
However, not every population is doing well when it comes to the flu.
“There's areas where we really are falling behind compared to our last flu season, specifically pregnant women and in children,” Thacker said.
The CDC announced in February that for the first time since the pandemic, pediatric flu deaths surpassed more than 100 in the country.
Experts caution that everyone, regardless of age, should not let their guard down.
“Flu season is not over. We know that it can extend into April or May,” Thacker said. “And one of the questions and worries is, ‘Will we have another surge of influenza late in our flu season?’”