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A 45 Percent Covid Bump in State Adds Urgency to Flu Vaccination

September 22, 2020

While uncertain if recent increases in infection numbers signify that the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has begun, Hartford HealthCare (HHC) experts kicked off a robust flu shot campaign Sept. 22 to address at least part of the anticipated “twindemic” this fall.

The timing of the second wave, overlaying the seasonal flu, has worried residents and healthcare officials that area hospitals might be overwhelmed again. One key differentiator between the two viruses, however, is that there is a vaccine that can prevent the flu. A similar innoculation for COVID-19 is still in development and may not be widely distributed until some time in 2021.

“As we maintain vigilance with COVID-19, the No. 1 way to protect ourselves is to get vaccinated against the flu,” said Keith Grant, APRN, HHC’s senior system director of infection prevention. “If we prevent the flu virus, it will also lessen the impact of COVID-19.”

The system’s campaign is dubbed “It’s Good for You Connecticut – Get Your Flu Shot” and officials hope to encourage even more people than usual to get vaccinated.

Grant said for maximum protection, people should get the flu shot before the end of October. Peak flu activity is generally from December to early February. The effectiveness of the vaccine begins two weeks after it is received and lasts three to four months, he said.

The flu campaign comes at a time when the state is seeing a gradual resurgence in COVID-19 infection, something Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer with HHC, attributed to general weariness with the restrictions of quarantine, late summer gatherings and the return of students to area college campuses. To bolster his assertion, Dr. Kumar noted that numbers are particularly rising among people ages 20 to 29.

“It’s likely that they’ll get through it, but they will also expose older people in the process,” he said of the lurking dangers.

COVID-19 and the flu exhibit similar respiratory symptoms, fatigue and body aches, but the former can also cause loss of taste and smell, gastrointestinal distress and extreme headaches.

“It’s difficult to differentiate the symptoms. If people have questions, they should reach out for help,” said Dr. Kumar. “Do not take this lightly. It’s still a time of great caution.”

He also urged people to continue following infection control guidelines such as physical distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.

Depending on the severity of the second wave of COVID-19, HHC should fare well, he said. System teams have been preparing throughout the summer and stockpiling supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE) in anticipation of increased patient flow.

“Based on the data, we’ve seen about a 45 percent increase in prevalence in Connecticut,” said Dr. Kumar. “I don’t know if that qualifies as the second wave but if this is what the second wave looks like, we are prepared.”