Community Pharmacy: Center of Immunization Services - Episode 9

Reasons For the Mild Flu Season and Upcoming Predictions

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Jennifer Adams, PharmD, EdD, leads discussion on reasons for the mild flu season this previous year and share predictions for the upcoming flu season.

Ed Cohen, PharmD, FAPhA: Last year, we hardly saw any flu. We stayed home most of the year. When we went out, we wore masks. We didn’t get near one another. We didn’t have family gatherings. Everybody was, as we are today, on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or some other virtual platform of communicating and gathering, but it’s not going to be the same this fall. Jen, what do you think it’s going to look like when we take the masks off and we’re not social distancing? We’re going to start getting together for the holidays, and we’re going to return to in-person schooling and other things. What do you think we’re going to see, and how do we carry that message to our patients and encourage them to get protected from the flu?

Jennifer Adams, PharmD, EdD: Some of the predictions for what flu season will look like aren’t great, and there are a couple of reasons. They predicted that part of the reason we didn’t see as much flu last year [2020] was because COVID-19 overcame the flu and was a bigger thing. But social distancing and masks also prevented the spread of the flu. Early on with COVID-19, we knew that it was airborne, so we also overly cleaned. Everywhere has been overly cleaning for quite some time. If we continue with some of that overcleaning, that might help us, at least a little, with this next flu season.

It was so mild last year. There are predictions that the flu season is going to be much more severe this year. People’s behavior has changed. On the spectrum, there’s the person that probably didn’t wear a mask, even during COVID-19, vs the person who will continue to wear a mask during the next flu season because they didn’t get sick with anything last year. There are people on both ends of the spectrum. Are there things you can do besides getting the flu vaccine that will help protect you against the flu? Absolutely, including the same things we did with COVID-19. But if you want to continue to live the new normal that we’ve seen in a lot of places—as states have begun to open—then the flu vaccine can be really important.

Yes, the CDC is obviously predicting a worse flu season than last year, but also 1 that’s worse than normal. That’s another part of the reason that the flu vaccine is so important. We’ve been putting the message out there that people die from the flu every year, but I don’t know how well that message has resonated with people. If we’re thinking that this flu season is more severe than normal, we’re looking at 70,000, 80,000, 100,000 people dying from the flu in 2021.

We think about dying from infectious disease, as a society, in a different way now. Having lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at things differently, and we look at our vulnerable population differently. Some of the messages about COVID-19 are going to apply to our flu efforts. How do we protect those around us? How do we protect the people most vulnerable in our communities? This has to be part of our flu message, in a way that it hasn’t necessarily been. But first and foremost, our pharmacists have to get immunized with the flu vaccine in order to protect themselves. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Let’s protect ourselves first and make sure we’re protected but also do what we can, because we’re vaccinating people for the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. I know that workload, thinking about that volume of workload, probably gives some pharmacists heartburn, so we need the leaders of our chain pharmacies and folks to think about, “How do we manage that volume? How do we manage the workload?” I know folks, like Liz, already are, but that’s the other piece—we have to be cognizant of the workload that accompanies with the ability to fight a nasty flu season.

Transcript edited for clarity.