Health care providers say flu shots will be vital again this year

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the pandemic continues, we are getting closer to it over-lapping with flu season. And in many places, the flu vaccine is already available.

Health officials say now is the time to get the shot.

The flu season is always unpredictable. However, there are good signs showing it could be a mild year but there are also bad signs showing it could be a so-called "rebound" year where we see much more activity than we saw last year.

Dr. Timothy Friel, an infectious disease specialist at Lehigh Valley Health Network, says one of the biggest concerns as we get closer to flu season is the possibility of a "twindemic. "

"So the simultaneous occurrence of two infectious disease processes wreaking havoc at the same time," he said.

No one can predict what will happen but there are some clues. One positive sign is Australia reporting a mild flu season, but one caveat is they still had strict precautions in place to prevent COVID-19 which also works to prevent the flu.

Masks, distance, avoiding crowds helped keep flu activity unusually low here as well last year. Some local emergency rooms say they had zero cases last season.

Friel says where we are with the precautions this year will again play a major role.

"Are kids still in school, which we all hope for, are people back at work, is there more a more continued resurgence in travel both national and international, all those things that bring us in closer contact provide greater fuel for influenza to take hold," he said.

Another potential clue and cause for concern is what we're seeing with other respiratory viruses. RSV, typically seen in children in the winter, was barely noticeable last year but is spiking now in the summer. Friel says we could see flu follow the same path, known as the rebound effect.

He urges everyone 6 months or older to get a flu shot.

"The health care system has been under great, great strain and the last thing we need now is to have an unexpected and preventable uptick in respiratory illnesses that throw things into greater havoc in the coming months," he said.

The flu vaccine is available now and if you still have to get your COVID-19 vaccine, you can get them the same day.

Early on, experts wanted people to wait two weeks but now they have the research to say it is safe and effective to get them at the same time. It will be two different shots but Moderna is working on one to combine them in the future.
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