Story at a glance
- Nancy Messonnier of the CDC confirmed more influenza vaccine doses will be available for the fall.
- The goal is to avoid flu patients from using scarce health resources needed for coronavirus treatment.
Public health officials are planning on securing massive amounts of influenza vaccine doses in preparation for a potential double whammy of flu cases and COVID-19 infections.
“Though we don’t yet have a vaccine for COVID, we do have a tool to prevent influenza,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a recent podcast interview per CNBC.
Four drug manufacturers specializing in influenza vaccines reportedly confirmed that they plan to ship nearly 200 million vaccine doses to the U.S. for fall 2020, an increase of nearly 15 percent from last year’s supply.
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“The both public and private demand for this upcoming season has been tremendous,” reporters quote Elaine O’Hara, the head of North America commercial operations for French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteu.
On average, between 9 and 45 million Americans become ill with the flu every year, which leads to anywhere between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually, CNBC reports. The CDC estimates that between Oct. 1, 2019 to April 4, 2020, there have been 39 to 56 million influenza infections and approximately 24,000 to 62,000 deaths.
The CDC says that everyone older than 6 years of age should get a flu vaccine each year. Current estimates average 62.6 percent of children aged six months to 17 years of age get an annual vaccine shot, while 45.3 percent of adults over the age of 18 get their seasonal shot, based on 2018-2019 data.
CNBC notes that the effectiveness of the vaccine each year can vary, ranging from 20 to 60 percent efficacy depending on scientists being able to prepare for each strain that may be present.
Still, a vaccine can lead to a mild case if one is ultimately sick with the flu.
“While we may get a mild case of influenza, there’ll be less of the severe cases of influenza that result in office visits that can overwhelm a doctor’s office or in hospitalizations,” Vice President and Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health Leonard Friedland of GlaxoSmithKline told reporters.
Concerns over Americans’ willingness to go out and get a flu vaccine amidst the COVID-19 pandemic have worried officials since June. Health care professionals want to encourage people to get a flu vaccine to avoid becoming severely ill with both the flu and COVID-19, as well as use scarce medical resources needed to battle the coronavirus.
“You don’t want to get COVID on top of flu or flu on top of COVID. Because we don’t know what the clinical manifestations will be. We can only surmise or guess that they could be additive and it could be detrimental,” said Jose Romero, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Arkansas Department of Health.
Optimistically, should health protocols like social distancing, masks and hand washing continue into the fall, there is a chance the flu season will be less severe than in previous years.
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