High demand for flu shots? Experts hope to avoid 'twindemic'

Health officials are urging Americans to seek a flu vaccine this month, hoping to avoid twin epidemics as COVID-19 continues to circulate.

Posted: Oct 1, 2020 2:59 PM

October is prime time for flu vaccinations, and the U.S. and Europe are gearing up for what experts hope is high demand as countries seek to avoid a “twindemic” with COVID-19.

“There's considerable concern as we enter the fall and winter months and into the flu season that we'll have that dreaded overlap" of flu and the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said Thursday. He got his own flu shot earlier this week.

A record number of flu vaccine doses are on the way, between 194 million and 198 million for the U.S. alone -- seemingly plenty considering last year just under half of adults got vaccinated and there usually are leftovers.

Still, there’s no way to know how many will seek shots this year and some people occasionally are finding drugstores or clinics temporarily out of stock.

Be patient: Flu vaccine ships gradually. Less than half has been distributed so far, and the CDC and manufacturers say more is in transit.

“This year I think everyone is wanting to get their vaccine and maybe wanting it earlier than usual,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Associated Press. “If you’re not able to get your vaccination now, don’t get frustrated” but keep trying.

Pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, which is supplying nearly 250 million doses worldwide including 80 million for the U.S., says it has shipments staggered into November.

Vaccine maker Seqirus is exploring if it could squeeze out “a limited number of additional doses" to meet high demand, said spokeswoman Polina Miklush.

Brewing flu vaccine is time-consuming. Once production ends for the year, countries can’t simply order more -- making for a stressful balancing act as they guess how many people will roll up their sleeves.

Germany usually buys 18 million to 19 million doses, and this year ordered more. As German Health Minister Jens Spahn put it: “If we manage, together, to get the flu vaccination rate so high that all 26 million doses are actually used, then I’d be a very happy health minister.”

Spain purchased extra doses in hopes of vaccinating far more older adults and pregnant women than usual, along with key workers in health facilities and nursing homes.

In contrast, Poland, which last year had 100,000 doses go unused, didn't anticipate this fall's high demand and is seeking more.

The good news: The same precautions that help stop spread of the coronavirus -- wearing masks, avoiding crowds, washing your hands and keeping your distance -- can help block influenza, too.

Winter just ended in the Southern Hemisphere and countries like South Africa, Australia, Argentina and Chile diagnosed hardly any flu thanks to COVID-19 restrictions combined with a big push for influenza vaccinations.

With the coronavirus still circulating and cold weather coming just as more schools and businesses reopen, there’s no guarantee that countries in the Northern Hemisphere will be as lucky with flu.

“How much flu, we don’t know -- but there will be flu,” predicted Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

A flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not the coronavirus. And while its effectiveness varies from year to year, people vaccinated against flu don’t get as sick, avoiding pneumonia, hospitalization and death, Schaffner said.

The CDC estimated that last year the flu hospitalized 400,000 Americans and killed 22,000.

Adding flu to the toll of COVID-19 -- which has killed more than 1 million people worldwide including more than 206,000 Americans -- would further strain hospitals. Both flu and the coronavirus have similar symptoms and even if they’re mild, Schaffner warned of confusion as people seek testing to learn which illness they have and if anyone they’ve been around needs to quarantine.

“Take flu out of the equation this fall,” Jernigan advised.

Who needs flu vaccine? The U.S. recommends it for everyone starting at 6 months of age. But flu is most dangerous for people over age 65, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, even diabetes.

Most Americans with insurance can get it without a co-pay, and there are different kinds to choose from: Regular shots, two types of shots that aim to give older adults a little extra protection, and a nasal spray.

The CDC doesn’t recommend one over another. If you can’t find your preferred type, “we ask people not to shop around and wait forever,” Jernigan said. “The best vaccine to get is the vaccine that’s available to you.”

The CDC this year wants states to increase flu vaccinations among Blacks and Hispanics, who are less likely to get a shot than whites and also are at extra risk from COVID-19. Some states also are holding drive-thru flu vaccinations and outdoor clinics to avoid crowds.

And at the same time they get immunized against flu, older adults and people with chronic illnesses also should ask about getting a vaccine against a type of pneumonia that is a frequent complication, U.S. officials urged.

In much of Europe, those at high risk get prioritized. France has ordered 30% more flu vaccine than last year, with first shots given to the high risk as inoculations begin later this month.

In Italy, doctors and pharmacists have expressed concern about the supply, as the health ministry conducts negotiations with vaccine producers to ensure everyone who wants the vaccine can get it. Italy also lowered the threshold — from age 65 to 60 — for receiving the flu vaccine free of charge.

Britain’s health department expects enough doses for nearly half the population but cautions that phased deliveries might mean some doctors and pharmacies won’t receive shots until later in the fall. Britain typically offers free flu vaccines to older adults, pregnant women and certain other at-risk groups, and are discussing whether others should qualify for a free shot this year.

The World Health Organization said last week that some countries are scrambling to make sure they’ve got enough flu vaccine. WHO encouraged any countries worried about a shortfall to give priority to health workers and older adults.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 549830

Reported Deaths: 7067
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1145171675
Ramsey47380851
Dakota42007420
Anoka38065415
Washington24723273
Stearns20819218
St. Louis16620297
Scott15798117
Wright14643125
Olmsted1268297
Sherburne1046080
Carver970145
Clay777389
Rice7554101
Blue Earth690640
Kandiyohi623979
Crow Wing607986
Chisago543749
Otter Tail539373
Benton526097
Mower449532
Douglas438970
Goodhue438271
Winona437249
Nobles398748
Morrison391159
McLeod387854
Beltrami370557
Isanti370359
Itasca366052
Polk362467
Steele357714
Becker350248
Lyon346748
Carlton327052
Freeborn325029
Pine309221
Nicollet304142
Brown293139
Mille Lacs277350
Le Sueur268022
Todd267230
Cass247426
Meeker232737
Waseca229520
Martin211529
Wabasha19913
Roseau195518
Hubbard170541
Dodge17033
Renville169743
Redwood165435
Houston162114
Cottonwood155320
Fillmore15149
Pennington149519
Chippewa144636
Faribault142919
Wadena142721
Sibley134910
Aitkin127836
Kanabec127621
Watonwan12529
Rock121719
Jackson115910
Yellow Medicine110119
Pipestone109125
Murray10209
Pope10146
Swift98618
Marshall85317
Stevens80510
Lake78019
Clearwater76614
Wilkin76512
Koochiching76212
Lac qui Parle73422
Big Stone5594
Lincoln5572
Grant5438
Norman5209
Mahnomen4948
Unassigned48278
Kittson46222
Red Lake3857
Traverse3595
Lake of the Woods2993
Cook1440

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 356912

Reported Deaths: 5810
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55819602
Linn20248329
Scott18949234
Black Hawk15517306
Woodbury14872220
Johnson1397781
Dubuque13115202
Dallas1087696
Pottawattamie10703162
Story1028547
Warren553586
Clinton536490
Cerro Gordo521186
Webster507991
Sioux505073
Marshall476874
Muscatine457896
Des Moines440665
Wapello4250120
Buena Vista421440
Jasper407670
Plymouth396779
Lee367755
Marion354375
Jones292955
Henry285937
Carroll279050
Bremer278960
Crawford262039
Boone257833
Benton249655
Washington249249
Dickinson240643
Mahaska224049
Jackson217842
Kossuth212362
Clay209825
Tama206571
Delaware202539
Winneshiek193933
Page190320
Buchanan188231
Cedar183423
Fayette182841
Wright180135
Hardin179242
Hamilton177949
Harrison175373
Clayton166655
Butler162434
Mills158020
Cherokee156738
Floyd155242
Lyon154341
Madison153519
Poweshiek152433
Allamakee149051
Iowa145324
Hancock143334
Winnebago135831
Grundy135032
Cass134354
Calhoun133111
Jefferson130535
Emmet128340
Shelby127337
Sac126819
Appanoose126647
Louisa126549
Mitchell125241
Union124032
Chickasaw122515
Humboldt118126
Guthrie117729
Franklin112521
Palo Alto110421
Howard102822
Montgomery100237
Unassigned10020
Clarke98023
Keokuk94430
Monroe93528
Ida89433
Adair84332
Pocahontas83321
Monona80930
Davis79924
Greene76410
Osceola75016
Lucas74922
Worth7078
Taylor65112
Fremont61210
Decatur5899
Van Buren55518
Ringgold53423
Wayne51923
Audubon4949
Adams3284
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