From the Experts: Navigating a Different Kind of Flu Season

2020 will undoubtedly be a year to remember. While the past several months have left many of us questioning the unknown, which could be a source of fear and anxiety, there’s one decision that can be made with confidence and clarity: getting your annual influenza (flu) vaccination to help keep yourself and those around you protected from preventable illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued several statements on how to best prepare for the 2020-2021 influenza season, stressing the importance of vaccination to help reduce the current burden on the healthcare system and protect the public from the risk of co-infection with COVID-19. There are several vaccine options available, even for those who prefer a needle-free option. The CDC does not recommend one flu vaccine over another, but it’s important to speak to your healthcare provider to find out which vaccine is right for you.

To dive further into flu prevention and discuss what families need to know to stay healthy this flu season, Allyn Bandell, AstraZeneca’s Senior Influenza Global Medical Lead, connected with Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer of Families Fighting Flu (FFF) and Marla Dalton, CAE, Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID). 


Getting an annual flu vaccine isn’t just about us as individuals; it also helps protect our loved ones… because the more people that are vaccinated, the less flu can spread.

Serese Marotta Families Fighting Flu

Allyn: How can individuals best prepare for this upcoming flu season, especially with the overlap of COVID-19?

Serese: The most important thing families can do to prepare for this flu season is to make a plan to get vaccinated. Flu vaccination is the best defense we have against seasonal flu and it's more important than ever for everyone 6 months and older to receive an annual flu vaccine, consistent with the recommendation from the CDC.

Where and how your family gets vaccinated this flu season may look different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some healthcare providers may be offering drive-thru or mobile flu clinics and now across the US you can even take your child(ren) to get a flu vaccine at your local pharmacy. The best time to get vaccinated is before the end of October, before flu starts circulating, but flu vaccination later in the season can still be beneficial if flu hasn't yet started circulating in your community.

Marla: Those in the infectious disease community have been talking about a potentially double-barreled respiratory virus season this year, should flu and COVID-19 converge. Now more than ever, annual flu vaccination is critical to protect not only yourself, your loved ones, and your community, but also to reduce additional strain on the US healthcare system.

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, individuals should take everyday preventive actions to help #FightFlu: stay home if you are sick, and practice healthy habits such as washing your hands often and covering your coughs and sneezes. When you go out, wear a mask. If you do have flu symptoms, call a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Allyn: Since there are often public misconceptions surrounding the flu virus and the accompanying vaccine, what do you think is important to clarify for families looking to separate fact from fiction?

Serese: We're constantly bombarded with information and it's difficult sometimes to separate fact from fiction. My recommendation is to always consult trusted resources for health-related information, such as the CDC and medical experts, including your trusted healthcare professional. The important thing to remember is that flu can be potentially serious for anyone, regardless of age, gender, health status, ethnicity, or lifestyle. At FFF, we share many stories of individuals who have been personally affected by flu. Many of these individuals were otherwise healthy and their stories illustrate that flu is not "just a bad cold" – it's a serious disease! 

Getting an annual flu vaccine isn't just about us as individuals; it also helps protect our loved ones and our community at large because the more people that are vaccinated, the less the flu can spread. So, let's all do our part to fight flu by getting an annual flu vaccine this season! 

Marla: Many tend to underestimate the seriousness of flu and the benefits of annual flu vaccination. Flu is a contagious viral infection that can affect anyone and can lead to serious complications. Annual flu vaccination is critically important for those at high risk for flu-related complications, such as young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions including heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes.

Flu vaccine effectiveness can vary from season to season, among different age and risk groups, and even by vaccine type. But it is important that people understand that even if they get flu despite getting vaccinated, they are likely to have a less severe illness. Each year, flu vaccines help prevent millions of illnesses, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths, as well as other serious related complications, like heart attack and stroke.

Each year, flu vaccines help prevent millions of illnesses, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths, as well as other serious related complications...

Marla Dalton National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

Allyn: With routines looking much different this year, what are some of the ways your organization is helping protect families from the flu?

Serese: Our goal at FFF is to provide evidence-based information to parents and communities about flu and flu vaccination so that they can feel comfortable making the decision to get their families vaccinated. I lost my healthy, 5-year-old son to flu during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. Before that, I had no idea how dangerous flu could be and I don't want other families to experience a similar tragedy. On our website, we offer information about flu, flu prevention, flu treatment, types of available flu vaccines, FAQs about flu vaccination, and flu vaccination information for children, adolescents, adults, seniors, pregnant and postpartum women, and people with chronic health conditions. This flu season, we're working to help increase flu awareness by partnering with schools and employers to hold onsite flu vaccination clinics. We also have a Flu Champions program where we're working with local advocates in their communities to raise awareness about the seriousness of flu and the critical importance of annual flu vaccination. We are also offering ways to help remind folks to get vaccinated this season through our Flu Vaccination Promise program and our texting program. In past flu seasons, less than 50% of the US population received an annual flu vaccine and the CDC estimates that seasonal flu deaths range from 12,000 to 61,000. This year, we must increase flu vaccination rates in an effort to save lives.

Marla: NFID has resources available to help families and healthcare professionals sort out flu myths and facts, and the website offers many valuable tools to help communicate clearly about the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases and the importance of receiving all recommended immunizations on time.

NFID is currently leading two important initiatives to help increase awareness of the value of vaccination. Specifically, the Leading By Example initiative calls on community leaders to make a commitment to flu prevention and share flu vaccination photos on social media using #FightFlu and tagging @NFIDvaccines, and the Keep Up The Rates campaign encourages individuals of all ages to receive recommended vaccines that may have been delayed in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While routines may have changed and we continue to adjust to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, some things have not changed—individuals of all ages, from newborn babies to older adults, need to stay up to date on recommended vaccinations. Vaccine-preventable diseases have not gone away, but they can be prevented with safe and effective vaccines.

+++

Everyone should feel empowered to receive their annual flu vaccine in order to reduce the burden on the US healthcare system and keep themselves and their loved ones healthy. For more information on where to find a nearby flu vaccine administrator, please visit vaccine finder.