Vaccines, flu shots especially important this holiday season

As COVID-19 and flu cases rise in the region, state health officials are urging residents to take precautions.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday asked residents to get their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, wear masks in indoor settings, practice social distancing when possible and stay home when they are ill to prevent additional outbreaks of the flu and COVID-19.

“As we head into respiratory virus season, it is important to take every mitigation measure we can to prevent outbreaks of the flu, RSV and COVID-19,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive, in a news release. “Wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and getting vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 will help prevent the spread of illness. COVID-19 vaccines and flu vaccines can be administered at the same time, and we encourage all eligible Michiganders to get theirs as soon as possible.”

And there’s some worrisome news coming out of the Lower Peninsula. A recent outbreak involving more than 525 cases of influenza A — H3N2 — among University of Michigan students is currently being investigated by public health officials, according to the MDHHS.

“This outbreak comes at a time when COVID-19 infections are again surging in Michigan, with case rates, positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths all increasing,” MDHHS officials said in a news release.

“State and local public health officials are concerned with the potential for increased strain on health systems if COVID-19 and influenza cases surge at the same time this winter.”

However, the MDHHS reports that this year’s influenza vaccine administrations are down versus previous seasons, officials said. As of Nov. 6, a little over 2 million doses of flu vaccine have been administered, about a 26% decrease from this time last year, according to the MDHHS.

This is a concerning figure, as the flu likely has a better chance of spreading this season as compared to the last flu season. Why? The COVID-19 precautions that were in effect during the last flu season also helped protect people from contracting and spreading the flu.

“The 2020-2021 flu season was unique in many ways, resulting in historically low flu activity for the entire season,” MDHHS officials said in the news release. “Public health professionals indicate that community mitigation measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic such as masking and social distancing and influenza vaccination could have contributed to the below average amount of influenza cases last season.”

Despite its comparison to the common cold, the flu is “a very serious and potentially deadly disease, especially for children, older people and people with chronic health conditions,” MDHHS officials said in the news release.

During a typical flu season like the 2019-2020 flu season, the nation recorded 39 to 56 million estimated cases of the flu, 18 to 26 million medical visits due to the flu and nearly half a million flu hospitalizations, according to MDHHS.

“The flu vaccine is the best way to reduce risk from the seasonal flu and its potential serious complications,” MDHHS officials said in the release. “Each year flu vaccination reduces the burden of influenza significantly in the United States preventing millions of illnesses and thousands of hospitalizations and deaths.

As the holiday travel season approaches, we urge all residents to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities by getting a flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine.

It just might save your life or the life of someone you love.


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