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Health officials urge Americans to get flu shot as fears rise due to possible “twindemic”

During the annual press conference on influenza / pneumococcal disease on Thursday, organized by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, called on the public to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all. vaccinated against influenza.

“Everyone, aged 6 months or more, should receive an annual flu vaccine,”

; Fauzi said.

“Influenza itself is a deeply serious viral infection that causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations each year, the main complication being pneumonia and many thousands of deaths,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the University Medical Center. Vanderbilt told ABC News.

Only 48% of adults in the United States were vaccinated against influenza in 2019-2020, resulting in 38 million influenza illnesses, 18 million influenza-related medical visits, 400,000 influenza hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths, according to CDC estimates. .

“We are at the greatest risk of getting seriously ill,” Fautsi said during the conference. “It is our personal responsibility to protect ourselves. But we also have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable around us, including young children, pregnant women, adults aged 65 and over, and those with underlying chronic diseases.”

“First, get vaccinated,” he continued, “and take daily preventative action to stop the spread of germs.”

Vaccine fluctuations are a major public health problem in America, but vaccines are the most effective means of combating infectious diseases. Last year, the flu vaccine prevented 7.5 million flu illnesses, 3.7 million flu-related medical visits, 105,000 flu hospitalizations and 6,300 deaths, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

The flu vaccine is not 100% effective, so it may be possible for some people to get vaccinated and still get the flu. However, getting the vaccine makes the symptoms of the flu much less severe than they would have been if you had never received the vaccine.

“Every year we show that people who are vaccinated and at risk of getting the flu are less likely to go to the emergency department, less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit. And they are more likely. a little prone to die, “Schaffner said.

Despite these statistics, a new study published Thursday by the NFID found that only 59% of adults in the United States said they planned to be vaccinated against the flu during the 2020-2021 flu season. Fifteen percent say they are unsure, while 22% who are at high risk for complications related to the flu (such as adults 65 and older, smokers, those with diabetes, asthma, heart disease or kidney disease), state that they do not plan to be vaccinated.

These low numbers are worrying for public health officials as US hospitals prepare for a potential influx of severely flu patients and COVID-19 patients.

“Now more than ever, influenza vaccination is crucial not only to protect individuals and communities, but also to reduce the burden of influenza on our health care system as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marla Dalton. NFID Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer.

In fact, 46% of adults in the United States are concerned about coinfections, according to the study, with 28% reporting that the COVID-19 pandemic makes them more likely to be vaccinated against the flu this year.

“The scary reality is that we could run into a pair of COVID-19s,” Schaffner said. And for doctors and other health care providers, it will be difficult to understand the difference between diseases based on symptoms alone.

There have been reports of overlapping cases of influenza and COVID-19, Schaffner said, but there is still not enough evidence. “Patients who are reported to this are often hospitalized. So if you get a double infection, you will be more seriously ill. Who wants to be struck by two respiratory viruses at the same time?”

Cardiologist Dr. Frederico Ash of the American College of Cardiology noted that this year he is particularly concerned about the elderly and those with chronic illnesses who are at higher risk of complications from both influenza and COVID-19.

In recent years, adults aged 65 and over have accounted for between 50% and 70% of influenza-related hospitalizations.

Last year, nearly 93 percent of adults in the United States hospitalized for influenza complications had at least one underlying medical condition, Ash said. “Working in the intensive care unit for many years, I saw some of the most serious complications of the flu, including myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure and abnormal rhythms,” he said.

According to the CDC, the vaccination rate among adults aged 18 to 49 with at least one of the chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and chronic lung disease, was only 44% in the previous flu season.

“The flu can exacerbate underlying conditions and lead to life-threatening complications such as heart attack, stroke, permanent physical decline, pneumonia, hospitalizations. Adults with heart disease are six times more likely to have a heart attack within seven days of a flu infection,” he said. Ash.

Vaccines have been shown to reduce the incidence of cardiac arrest in people with heart disease and reduce the incidence of stroke or heart failure, while reducing mortality in adults with type 2 diabetes.

In addition, racial differences continue to affect the rate of influenza vaccination. White individuals had a 55% higher range of influenza vaccine than blacks (46%) and Spaniards (47%). Although adult blacks are more concerned about co-infection with COVID-19 and influenza than whites and Hispanic adults, nearly 62% say they are unsure or do not plan to get the flu vaccine this year, according to the study.

“We need to increase the number of people being vaccinated and focus especially on color communities, which often carry a disproportionate burden of serious influenza,” said Daniel B. Jernigan, director of influenza at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory. Diseases in the CDC.

In addition, for children, “we know that flu vaccination is crucial because it can significantly reduce the risk of a child’s death,” said Dr. Patricia Whitley-Williams, professor of pediatrics and head of the Department of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology. and Infectious Diseases at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University.

“In particular, this year we must continue to focus on increasing vaccination levels among children and those at higher risk of severe complications from influenza and COVID-19, including the populations of blacks and Spaniards,” he said. she.

During the 2019-2020 flu season, 188 children in the United States died of flu causes, according to Whitley-Williams.

There is hope if we look at countries like Australia and New Zealand, Schaffner said. They report significantly fewer cases of flu this year, which they attribute to “more flu vaccines than they have ever had,” in addition to adhering to social distancing and wearing masks.

“I hope we can promote this here,” Schaffner said. “But we’re not getting the vaccines we’d like here, and we certainly don’t have a full commitment from our population to wear masks. So, I don’t think we’re going to do that have a lot of benefits to Australians. But we’re still trying to use as many flu vaccines as possible. “

Dr. Leah Kroll of ABC News contributed to this report

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