In the initial days of COVID-19, many people were comparing coronavirus to the flu, and in some cases underestimating the threat and potential destructiveness of the virus. As the world has been largely shut down by a global pandemic, the pendulum has swung in the other direction.
All eyes are squarely on COVID-19, and rightfully so. But as employers do their best to manage immediate challenges such as supporting essential workers, surviving financial strain, managing displaced employees and determining a path forward for their businesses, we must not forget about the flu. In a world weakened by the fight against COVID-19, the flu could be an unprecedented force this fall.
Here are three compelling reasons why employers must stay proactive and establish a plan for flu season, even as we navigate the current pandemic.
#1: The Flu Is Alive, Well and Ready to Thrive Again Next Season
While everyone is hyper-focused on tracking the spread of COVID-19, the flu has been thriving in its own right. Recent estimates from the CDC report at least 39 million flu cases, 410,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths in the U.S. this past year. The current flu season is very comparable to prior seasons, and in some cases is worse statistically. Will the upcoming season be positively impacted by social distancing and stay at home orders put in place for COVID-19? Maybe. But medical experts also say we can’t bank on that.
#2: We Will See Record-Breaking Demand For Flu Shots This Fall
Driven partly by coronavirus concerns, experts predict record demand from consumers for flu vaccines this fall. Dr. Deborah Levy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health points back to spikes in demand following previous pandemics as one reason to expect dramatic increases following COVID-19. Organizations need to plan ahead to ensure an adequate supply of flu vaccines for their population.
#3: Combatting the Flu Helps COVID-19 Efforts
For a number of reasons, effectively managing the spread of the flu increases the success of efforts to mitigate COVID-19. Since both the flu and coronavirus share several common symptoms, knowing whether a patient has a flu shot can help with diagnosis. Fewer people showing up with non-specific symptoms such as fever or a cough make it easier for physicians to identify COVID patients, suggests Dr. Albert Ko, a professor and department chair at the Yale School of Public Health.
More flu shots mean fewer flu cases, which lessens the burden placed on the healthcare system as it tries to manage the demands of caring for COVID-19 patients. Also, the flu compromises an individual’s immune system, potentially making it more likely for a person to be at-risk for the coronavirus.
As a national provider of flu shots and other preventive services, our responsibility in this space is to share our expertise, as well as the collective wisdom of our clients. The science shows that effective management of the flu this fall is critical. We have heard from many clients who are trying to develop both short-term strategies related to COVID-19 and longer term plans for deploying effective wellness and prevention programs in the aftermath of the pandemic.
We are encouraged by the resilience and the leadership being displayed across the employers and brokers we support, specifically in regards to doing the right things for their populations in the short term, while also prioritizing planning for a healthy workforce post-pandemic.
All of this requires flexibility, of course. We don’t know how long the coronavirus will disrupt life as we once knew it. We don’t know when the economy will be fully up and running again, when we can safely return to our worksites or how soon we will declare success against the spread of COVID-19. But we do know that in one form or another, there will be other health and wellness battles to wage in the near future. It starts with an all too familiar foe: the flu.