For many years, the seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine has been recommended for everyone more than six months old. While every flu season is different, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely to complicate the situation as the Northern Hemisphere enters its flu season. Therefore, this season, it is even more important that influenza vaccination rates are high in order to reduce clinical confusion between the two illnesses and to maintain space in hospitals for patients with COVID-19. The CDC estimates that there were 38 million flu illnesses, 18 million flu-related medical visits, 400,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and 22,000 flu deaths in the United States last season. Currently influenza activity in the United States is low. Optimal timing for vaccination is before activity begins (i.e. now), though it is still recommended throughout the season for those who have not already been vaccinated.

Various flu vaccine preparations are approved for use in the United States including a variety of inactivated flu shots, an inactivated needle-free jet injection, and a live-attenuated nasal spray. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not make specific recommendations for the type of vaccine (any age-appropriate vaccine is recommended). However, high-dose and adjuvanted vaccines are generally recommended for adults more than 65 years of age. The nasal spray is approved for non-pregnant individuals ages two to 49 without certain medical conditions and the jet injection is approved for adults 18-64 years old. All inactivated flu shots are safe for pregnant women and should be given to protect against maternal and fetal complications of flu. There are rare exemptions for vaccination such as history of a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous flu shot.

The combined effects of flu vaccination and COVID-19 prevention will help keep more people healthy this flu season.

At present, influenza vaccine supplies appear adequate, however, if the influenza vaccine supply is limited in a community, high-risk individuals should be prioritized. These populations include children aged six months to five years, adults older than 50 years, pregnant women, and patients with chronic conditions or immunocompromise as well as household contacts and caregivers of people with these conditions.

It is also notable that both flu and COVID-19 are associated with cardiovascular complications. It is possible that having both infections (either simultaneously or sequentially) may exacerbate these serious conditions. Consequently, the cardioprotective effects of flu vaccination may have a beneficial effect on patients with COVID-19 by reducing the risk of further damage by influenza infection. Further, infection control measures enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic including physical distancing, mask-wearing, and reduced travel should also contribute to reducing influenza spread. Therefore, the combined effects of flu vaccination and COVID-19 prevention will help keep more people healthy this flu season.

Be sure to stress the importance of flu vaccination with all your patients and stay updated on the influenza season and the COVID-19 pandemic with DynaMed®.