Doctors Bracing for Flu Season Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Health experts are urging families to get a flu vaccine and help ease the strain on hospitals this winter season

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It’s September 2020 and most of our attention is still focused on navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

But doctors are warning, flu season is just around the corner and there is a reason why they say this just might be the most important season to ever get your flu shot.

Dr. Preeti Sharma, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Health in Dallas and associate professor of pediatrics for UT Southwestern, said she thinks there's going to be some challenges for doctors this season to distinguish between COVID-19 and flu.

Both are viral. Symptoms are similar.

"I think that because there's so many unknowns, it's really hard for us to know what this is going to look like,” she said. “So I think because we are headed into kind of an unknown season, preventing that which you can prevent -- which is influenza -- is paramount.”

That's why doctors like Sharma urge the importance of getting vaccinated for the flu.

"Getting a flu vaccine for this season is going to vitally important for everybody but especially kids, who are going to be disproportionately affected by influenza. They very often have severe disease," she said. "So getting back to the basics of preventing the flu is going to be very important. Lots of handwashing and avoiding people who are ill. Things that people are already doing."

With so many people already practicing those habits for COVID-19, Sharma said the numbers for this flu season might look a little different.

"I'm very hopeful that with social distancing and preventative practices that people are already using, that we're going to hopefully see a difference in the number of flu cases this year. But it’s so unpredictable that it’s hard to know,” said Dr. Sharma.

CVS Health is also pushing for vaccinations right now. Starting in early September, CVS Pharmacy patients will be able to make vaccination appointments with a pharmacist or by texting FLU to 287898. Patients also will be able to complete a digital intake form prior to a visit to limit in-person contact at the time of vaccination.

“It is actually more top of mind now more than ever especially in light of what’s happened recently with COVID-19 pandemic,” said John Fratamico, CVS Health District Leader and licensed pharmacist. "What’s really important is, let’s make sure that we do our duty as people in our own respective communities. Get immunized."

He added that COVID-19 has also brought about some changes in the industry ahead of this flu season.

The company recently did a national study in which they asked consumers and providers their thoughts on the state of health care, as well as how they are navigating the COVID-19 landscape. Of the respondents in Dallas, 52% reported that they don’t have a primary care physician due to costs.

Currently, CVS is launching new HealthHubs inside pharmacies across the country. There are 14 locations already operating in Dallas-Fort Worth. The goal is to open more than 600 by the end of the year and to more than double that amount by the end of next year.

Fratamico said the HealthHubs will give families better access to lower-cost health care, including those flu shots – which he hopes can help ease the strain on local hospitals.

“By minimizing that disruption with having people not having flu cases because they were immunized in time, we’re doing a great service to our local hospitals. And they need all the help they can get,” he said.

Doctors recommend that you get a flu vaccination between now and Halloween to get vaccinated for the best effect. Sharma said the peak in the flu season usually begins in late October and early November. Then, we'll see another possible spike after the holidays

"Talk to your healthcare provider, talk to your kids' pediatrician -- make sure you're all vaccinated for the flu because that's what is going to protect all of us,” said Sharma.

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