States Urge Residents to Get Flu Vaccine Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

States across the country are urging residents to get vaccinated for influenza amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has already stretched health systems’ resources.

[READ: Child Vaccines a Concern as Schools Reopen, Flu Season Approaches]

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, got her own flu shot during a recent news conference and spoke of the importance of preserving “the medical resources our health care professionals need to continue fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.” In Alabama, State Health Officer Scott Harris recommended during a news conference on Aug. 27 that residents get vaccinated “as soon as possible,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser. In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott had a similar message for his residents in early August — telling them to get a flu vaccine early, the Houston Chronicle reported. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has said that a new flu shot requirement for students is “an important part” of the state’s response to the broader pandemic, according to MassLive.

“The more people that get the flu shot and don’t get the flu and don’t end up in the ER … the more capacity we’ll have to actually serve the people who do have COVID,” Baker said during a recent news conference, MassLive reported.

While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Massachusetts had the second-highest flu vaccine coverage percentage during the last season, this push could be crucial, especially for states that typically lag in flu vaccine coverage. Alabama and Texas both had vaccine rates on the lower end of the coverage spectrum — about 48% — during the 2018-19 flu season, according to the CDC. Alabama has also seen its coronavirus cases per capita spike recently, according to tracking by The New York Times.

Overall, fewer than 50% of adults get vaccinated during a normal season and CDC data shows there were between 24,000 and 62,000 flu deaths between Oct. 1, 2019, and April 4, 2020.

Alabama is one state that has been hit hard by the flu in recent years. There were 257 non-pediatric influenza-related deaths in 2018 and 93 in 2019, according to information provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health, which will be made available online for residents in September.

“We realize how important preparation is since flu and COVID-19 symptoms can overlap,” said an Alabama health department spokesperson via email.

[MORE: Pediatricians Make Home Visits to Boost Vaccinations, Counter Coronavirus Fears]

In urging Alabamians to get vaccinated, Harris says in the to-be-distributed messaging that “the more people protected from influenza, the more health care resources will be available during the COVID-19 pandemic.” He also notes that flu vaccines “reduce the chances of possible misdiagnosis and even worse, getting both diseases at the same time.”

West Virginia — another state with historically low influenza vaccine coverage and rising COVID-19 deaths per capita, according to the CDC and New York Times — is using similar messaging about the importance of flu shots.

“With COVID-19 symptoms and flu symptoms being similar, it is very important for individuals to speak with their health care provider about the importance of receiving a flu vaccine this year,” said Ayne Amjad, West Virginia’s state health officer, in a written statement provided to U.S. News. “We encourage everyone to continue to wear a mask, wash their hands often and keep socially distant.”

More from U.S. News

Child Vaccines a Concern as Schools Reopen, Flu Season Approaches

Pediatricians Make Home Visits to Boost Vaccinations, Counter Coronavirus Fears

New York Among States With Most Health Improvements Amid Pandemic

States Urge Residents to Get Flu Vaccine Amid Coronavirus Pandemic originally appeared on usnews.com

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