WASHINGTON, D.C. — Call it a twofer: pharmacies and health care centers across the country are offering the latest COVID booster shot, along with this year's flu vaccine.
"Both of those are needed. Both of those should be scheduled as soon as possible and ideally at the same time so that one doesn't fall into the trap of getting one and forgetting to get back to get the other," said Dr. Andrew Pekosz, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
It is the coming flu season that is worrying public health experts, in part because other parts of the world are offering a sneak peek of what to expect.
"It was Australia's worst flu season in five years and came earlier than any other flu season with the exception of the '09 pandemic," Dr. Pekosz said.
That is one of the concerns now: this year's flu season may start earlier than usual.
According to the CDC, as of early September, Georgia was seeing moderate flu activity. In Texas and New Mexico, the CDC says flu activity level is already high in those two states. Flu season normally doesn't get underway until October, while peaking in January and February.
Dr. Bruce Y. Lee is a professor at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and executive director of PHICOR (Public Health Informatics, Computational and Operations Research). He is also a senior contributor to Forbes magazine.
"The belief is that because people have been taking precautions and social distancing, wearing masks and making sure they wash their hands, that's actually helped keep the flu virus down,” Dr. Lee said, “but now that many people aren't maintaining a lot of those precautions - and also the fact that people haven't been exposed to the flu over the past couple of years - leave people a lot more susceptible."
That includes the elderly and children, who doctors warn can be especially vulnerable to the flu.
"The best thing you can do to get your child ready to stay healthy and in school is to get them vaccinated and boosted,” said Dr. Keri Althoff with the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "It is a lot. As a parent of three kids, I can't take them all together because then they all scream. I know this pain. But it is really important to keep your child healthy and in school."
It comes as both COVID and flu caseloads loom this fall for hospitals and health care providers. Health experts say getting vaccinated could help prevent a fall and winter strain on the nation's medical system.
"We've learned a lot about managing cases though the COVID-19 pandemic, so certainly there is an awareness of what emergency rooms and other places, other health care providers need to do to deal with these surges,” Dr. Pekosz said, “but it is a big unknown and the sooner we sort of have an inkling of whether or not there is a larger surge of flu cases, the better off we'll be in being able to prepare our health care system in dealing with these cases."