As the coronavirus pandemic surges all over the U.S., the number of cases of seasonal flu is down compared to other years, according to a report by Healthline. Public health experts say this is because more adults than usual got the flu shot this year, hoping it would further protect them from COVID-19. Still, they are asking communities to be weary of how a double-outbreak could hit hard.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 188 million doses of this season's flu vaccine were shipped out all over the country. More adults were vaccinated in 2020 than in 2019, though the rates differ by ethnic groups and other demographics. Sadly, the U.S. still saw its first pediatric death due to the flu last week — a child with underlying conditions who experience complications with influenza B. Scientists say that Americans should still be vigilant about the flu this year — especially with another virus raging through the population.
"Even though it's smoldering out there, it could take off at any time," said Dr. William Schaffner of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
The CDC believes that flu vaccination rates were lower this year among non-Hispanic Black Americans, and perhaps other groups as well. However, more flu vaccines were available in general than in years past — in 2019, 169 million doses were shipped out, and in 2018 it was just 163 million.
Not all of the vaccines distributed always get used, but Schaffner said he is confident that most of them have found a willing patient by now. Yale Medicine's Dr. Marie-Louise Landry added: "Flu vaccination in the community started earlier this year, as recommended by the CDC, and our community physicians report that vaccine uptake has been higher than usual."
Of course, the vaccine isn't hte only reason for lower flu rates this year. The coronavirus pandemic led to stay-at-home orders, school and business closures and other strong measures, severely limiting the amount of social interaction allowed. That has kept the virus from spreading in public places to some degree.
"It is possible that the mitigation measures for SARS-CoV-2 [such as social distancing, remote working, and mask wearing] will help curb the spread of flu [and] other respiratory viruses as well, since these viruses are transmitted in similar ways," suggested Yale's Dr. Ellen F. Foxman. However, she urged Americans not to get too confident, saying: "The exact timing of flu season varies from year to year, so we cannot be complacent, and it is very important for everyone to get the flu vaccine this year."