As COVID-19 and its emerging variants continue to spread and the cold and flu season begins, hospitals and health systems are preparing early this year. They’re applying lessons learned from COVID-19 so far to manage over capacity, conserve supplies, device practical solutions and take care of staff.
They also are educating people early and often on what to expect and how to protect themselves. In particular, people want to know how to deal with the coronavirus and its emerging variants, such as the widely spread delta variant, and the flu at the same time. And is it safe and effective to get the vaccines for both types of viruses.
Richelle Guerrero-Wooley, MD, an infectious diseases expert at Loma Linda University Health, has taken an early lead on providing answers to questions about the coming flu season amid the ongoing pandemic.
Here are his top three Q&As
- Are we expecting a more severe flu season, or is coronavirus likely to remain dominant?
We still expect coronavirus to remain dominant this coming winter. It is still difficult to predict whether this year's flu season will be more severe than the 2020-2021 season. Yet lack of the flu virus’s activity since the start of the pandemic might have reduced the population’s immunity and thus could lead to an early and possibly severe flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- What can I do to continue to protect myself?
The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Research and trials have shown the vaccines are highly protective at preventing severe disease and death from all the variants, including Delta. Continuing to wear a mask and washing your hands is also protective for yourself and others. The vaccine is highly but not 100% effective — meaning you can still contract a COVID-19 infection once vaccinated and can still spread the virus to others.
- What would you want people to know about this year’s flu vaccine?
This season, the quadrivalent flu vaccine will protect against four different strains, including two strains of Influenza A and two strains of Influenza B. Every year, the CDC obtains information from the flu viruses circulating during the previous flu season to predict what flu viruses might be circulating in the upcoming season. This information guides which strains are included in the flu vaccine to provide the best immunity for the next flu season — though keep in mind that efficacy varies year to year. Even though the 2020-2021 flu season had very little flu virus circulating, the CDC reports it should not impact the efficacy of the 2021-2022 flu vaccine.
Guerrero-Wolley recommends that people receive the COVID-19, COVID-19 booster and flu vaccines. And underscores that the COVID-19 vaccine can be administered safely and effectively with other vaccines.