Updated tips to prepare for a complicated flu season this year

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in outlets that include the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post.


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Until 2020, many Americans (except health reporters) tended to consider influenza as just a nuisance winter illness that might keep one in bed for a few days. However, this year, with COVID-19 still roiling the country, the flu needs to be considered more seriously.

Adding to concerns are polls showing that people may be reluctant to get a flu shot, which may influence others to hold off. CNN reports that one in three parents said they had no plan to go to their doctor’s office and vaccinate their kids, even though more than 100 children die of the flu each year. Most of the children that die from the flu didn’t get a flu shot.

So whatever journalists can do to report on the danger of the flu ― either by writing about families who have been impacted by the flu (see ways to find flu stories at this site) or reporting on where the public can access a flu shot ― is critical this year.

“The big concern is that we are going to see what could be a perfect storm of accelerated COVID-19 activity, as more people gather inside … become fatigued with social distancing, mask-wearing and hand hygiene and then are exposed to seasonal influenza,” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, said at a Sept. 10 media briefing by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

In the 2019-20 flu season, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the flu virus infected about 39 million to 56 million people in the U.S., of which about 24,000 to 62,000 died, and 410,000 to 740,000 were hospitalized. If the flu infection rate follows a similar pattern in the coming year, hospitals and health providers will face even further burdens on their resources.

“People really, really need to take the flu vaccine seriously this year,” Marrazzo said.

The pandemic itself is making flu shot distribution challenging this year. Many adults in the past got their flu shots at work, but this year many offices are closed. CNN reported that many state, government agencies and private companies are stepping up efforts to get the flu shots to people via curbside setups near hospitals and drug stores. Individuals can find additional locations where flu shots are offered at this CDC website.

To help you with the reporting, we have updated our annual tip sheet and backgrounder with resources and ideas for covering the flu in the time of COVID-19.

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