Get a flu shot.
Get it now.
Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
Just go get a shot. Please.
One pandemic’s quite enough, thank you.
State and local health officials this week sounded the alarm on what’s already promising to turn into a dangerous flu season — sending people to the hospital with yet another infectious respiratory virus.
Epidemiologists on the other side of the world have already developed and distributed a vaccine against the dominant flu strains circulating in the southern hemisphere — as they do every winter due to the rapid changes the flu virus evolves in its outer protein coat every season. A study involving 4,000 people demonstrated that the vaccine is about 50% effective on the dominant A strain and about 37% effective on the less widespread B strains.
But even if the vaccine doesn’t entirely prevent an infection, it can significantly reduce the severity and length of the illness in case you do get infected.
Doctors are worried about the flu season this year. For starters, the virus has been getting more widespread almost every year for much of the past decade. Moreover, the flu season generally starts in October and this year will crowd into the state on top of the receding, but still potent, virus that causes COVID-19.
The warning has special weight in Navajo, Apache and Gila Counties, which typically have worse flu outbreaks than the rest of the state.
Apache County last year had 1,326 flu cases documented. The peak caseload of 182 on the week of Jan. 20 was three times higher than the peak from the year before, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Navajo County’s flu season ending in April had two peaks — 135 cases the week of Jan. 6 and 148 cases the week of Feb. 3. The number of cases tripled from the previous year. The April stay-at-home orders to contain COVID-19 actually produced an unusually abrupt end to the flu season last spring
Gila County also had a much worse flu season in 2019-20. The season peaked with 60 cases the week of Jan. 6, roughly double the peak in the same week the year before.
Arizona had 36,400 documented cases in 2019-20, although most actual flu cases go undocumented and untested. Each year, 5-20% of Arizona residents get the flu. About 4,000 wind up hospitalized and at least 700 die.
By contrast, so far at least 202,000 Arizonans have tested positive for COVID – which is only 2% of the population. However, doctors say a majority of COVID cases have probably not been detected, since many people have few symptoms. So far, COVID-19 has killed a reported 5,000 people in Arizona.
Flu symptoms include fever, headache, dry cough, fatigue, body aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a runny nose — making it potentially hard to tell apart from COVID-19.
Unlike COVID, flu hits children hard — both in terms of infections and serious complications. It also is especially dangerous for pregnant women. It does resemble COVID because it’s especially dangerous in older people.
Doctors worry that the flu will hit hospitals just recovering from the impact of the pandemic. Moreover, no one’s quite sure what impact a flu infection might have on the COVID-19 infection rate or the death rate.
Arizona at one point, after lifting the stay-at-home order in May, suffered one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world. However, the number of new cases has been declining steadily for the past month. However, Arizona still has the 10th highest death rate in the country — 70 per 100,000 population compared to 55 per 100,000 nationally.
Gov. Doug Ducey last week called a press conference to urge all Arizona residents to get a flu shot as soon as possible.
“It has never been more important to get a flu shot,” said the governor.
He announced a new program to give a $10 gift card to people covered by Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System who get their shots. Any certified pharmacist can now administer the shot. Federal grants will cover the roughly $7 million cost of the free flu shots and gift cards for the state’s 2 million AHCCCS patients. AHCCCS provides coverage for about a third of the residents of Gila County and for roughly half of the residents of Apache and Navajo counties.
The program has boosted vaccination rates by 50% in other states, said Ducey.
The state department of health services will also soon post information on its website to help people find a provider who gives shots as well as information for businesses that want to offer shots for their employees.