The flu vaccine has been increasingly stressed this year to thwart a winter where COVID-19 and the flu run rampant. In Michigan, 350,021 people had already tested positive for COVID as of Nov. 28 and while a vaccine is expected to be available soon, it is not here yet. Currently, the best chance to avoid contracting COVID is to remain at home whenever possible and wear masks and maintain a distance from others when needing to leave the house. With the flu though, a vaccine is available, and has been available prior to every flu season for decades.
For the 2020-21 flu season, 198 million flu shots have been made available to the public, an increase from 175 million last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the Washington Post, national pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens have reported demand for the flu vaccine is higher this year than in years past, even double in same cases. However, according to the data from the Michigan Department of Health and Services there was no county in Southeastern Michigan where even half of the adult population had received the flu vaccine for the 2019-20 flu season.
Washtenaw County had the highest percentage of adults who received the flu vaccine at 42 percent last year, followed by Oakland County where 41 percent of the adult population received the flu vaccine. St. Clair County had among the lowest percentage of adult residents who received the flu vaccine last year at 25 percent. The City of Detroit had the lowest percentage though at 13 percent.
The CDC recommends everyone above the age of 6 months receive a flu vaccine, with rare exceptions. While the flu vaccine is widely recommended for nearly all ages, those with compromised immune systems and above the age of 65 tend to be the most targeted populations for vaccination. According to the CDC, between 70 and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group. With such data, it would make sense that the counties with the highest population of older adults would also have among the highest flu vaccination rates. However, that is not that case.
In Southeastern Michigan, St. Clair County has the highest population of adults 65 years of age or older at 19.5 percent and a 25 percent flu vaccination rate for adults, the lowest in the region. In Washtenaw County 14.5 percent of the population is made up of older adults, among the lowest percentage in the region (Detroit’s older adult population makes up 13 percent of its population and 13 percent of the adult population received the flu vaccine last year) yet it has the highest flu vaccination rate.
The flu vaccine for the current flu season is still available, but attention has certainly shifted in recent weeks to the availability of a COVID vaccine. According to media reports, Moderna applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for authorization of its COVID vaccine Monday and Pfizer applied for emergency authorization of its COVID vaccine last Friday. According to CNN, the FDA is scheduled to meet with its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Dec.10 to review Pfizer’s application and on Dec. 17 to review Moderna’s application. If approved, millions of doses of the vaccines could be shipped around the US by mid-December. According to media reports, about 6.4 million Pfizer vaccines will be distributed throughout the US by mid-December and about 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine will be available by the end of 2020. The CDC will make the recommendation on who should get the shots first; it is likely healthcare workers and nursing home residents will be recommended to get vaccinated first.
For Michigan, Henry Ford Hospital estimate that as early as Dec. 12 vaccines can begin to be distributed. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan expects that 5,000 residents will need to be vaccinated a day for 3-4 months to ensure the City’s population is vaccinated.
While we wait for a COVID vaccine to be approved and distributed, it is imperative we take additional steps to maintain our health, such as receiving a flu vaccine. The data from the State shows that not even half of the adult population in Michigan received one last year (the State average is 32 percent); we must do better at becoming vaccinated against COVID once vaccines are widely available. The flu is deadly; up to 62,000 people died from it last year, according to the CDC. However, 267,000 people have already been killed by COVID in the US and it hasn’t even been an active virus in the US for a year.