As fall approaches, some local doctors’ predictions for flu season are more optimistic than initially expected.
CDC Director Robert Redfield made a bleak projection this month about flu season coinciding with coronavirus in an interview with WebMD.
“This could be the worst fall from a public health perspective that we’ve ever had,” Redfield said.
But some doctors are saying the opposite.
“I think we can have one of the best flu seasons we have ever had, and South America just experienced that,” said Dr. Stephen McDonough, longtime pediatrician and former North Dakota Public Health Officer.
Health professionals point to the southern hemisphere as a hopeful harbinger for this fall.
“Potentially, we can expect that the same flu viruses that are circulating in the southern hemisphere, our summer and their winter, over the next few months is going to be coming up with a milder season, but there’s no guarantee,” said Dr. Noe Mateo, Infectious Disease Specialist at Sanford Bismarck Hospital.
Although that may be a positive sign, doctors say individuals should still get a flu shot, practice social distancing and wear a mask, because getting both COVID-19 and the flu together could be deadly.
“What we know from experience when you are sick with two viruses at the same time, those people are sicker and have higher hospitalization, ICU and mortality rates,” said Dr. Joan Connell, a field medical officer with the North Dakota Department of Health.
Connell says she’s telling her patients to get their shot early in the case that a coronavirus vaccine becomes available soon.
“The vaccines that are going to be coming out cannot be administered at the same time as another vaccine, so that’s another reason to get your flu shot now,” Connell said.
At Friday’s Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 task force meeting, Connell also encouraged mass vaccinations for influenza as practice for when a COVID-19 vaccine does arrive.
“We are really encouraging those kinds of creative thoughts of mass vaccination and practicing with the influenza vaccine,” Connell said.
Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch says those plans are already in the works.
“We’re going to try to do for Bismarck some drive-thru flu clinics similar to the COVID-19 testing we’ve done,” Moch said.
Mateo says his hospital’s employees will begin getting their flu shots starting Tuesday, and he encourages others to get their’s soon, too.
“You can get them at a primary care physician’s office, a walk-in clinic, a pharmacy — it should be freely available,” Mateo said. “The idea is to have the right kind of motivation to get it done earlier this year, slightly earlier.”
A coronavirus vaccine may not be far off — earlier this month the CDC selected North Dakota as part of a pilot project for distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.