While flu was largely absent last winter, the CDC projects it will come back this year, at the same time COVID-19 will continue to circulate in Utah.
To help keep children and families healthy, experts are recommending flu vaccines for people ages 6 months and older as soon as possible. Flu vaccines are available now at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital’s Flu Shot Spot, and in many doctor’s offices, clinics and pharmacies.
Jade Elliott spoke with Sharon Soutter, RN, who runs the flu shot clinic at Primary Children’s Hospital, about the importance of the flu shot.
“Now more than ever, it’s critical for everyone to get the vaccine to protect themselves and their families, and help our hospitals from being overwhelmed by preventable diseases,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health and Director of Hospital Epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.
For the upcoming flu season, vaccine is important to reduce flu because it can:
- Keep individuals from getting sick with flu, reduce the severity of the illness for people who do get flu, and reduce the risk of a flu-associated hospitalization.
- Prevent the anxiety and confusion of trying to tell whether symptoms are from flu or COVID-19
- Lessen the resulting burden on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Reduce the risk of potential co-infections with both Flu and COVID-19, which might result in more severe illness.
In 2020, there were almost no flu cases in Utah, in large part due to universal masking and fewer in-person gatherings because of pandemic health prevention measures that were in place, Dr. Pavia said.
There have been a handful of confirmed flu cases in Utah this month. It is too soon to know if this signals the return of flu, but epidemiologists are concerned that flu could surge this year while COVID continues to circulate. Utah hospitals and health systems are already stretched thin and non-emergency surgeries are being cancelled. A major flu outbreak could lead to even more problems providing everyone the care they need.
Already, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is recording a rare summer surge, with more than 200 young children diagnosed with RSV every week in Utah since August, according to GermWatch.org. Typically, that surge comes in winter.
“We strongly recommend flu vaccine for people ages 6 months and older, and COVID-19 vaccine for eligible children ages 12 and older to help prevent these serious diseases,” Dr. Pavia said. “Vaccines can help keep children in school, and help parents remain able to work to support their families. They also help people who cannot receive vaccines stay healthy. Limiting the impact of flu can prevent a flu surge that could further stress our exhausted providers and over-burdened hospitals throughout the state.”
Here are some things families can do now:
- Get a seasonal flu shot.
- Get a COVID-19 vaccine for yourself and children ages 12 and over. This can be received at the same time as the flu shot.
- Wash hands often and well, and help children to do the same.
- Stay home when ill.
- Wear a mask in public particularly in indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.
More information is available at IntermountainHealthcare.org.
The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.