Doctors urge flu shots ahead of potentially severe winter season
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Get your flu shot. Now that's what San Diego public health officials are urging as they warned about the potential for a bad flu season ahead. The number of people getting flu shots in the county is lagging from last year at this time. And experts warn that with decreased immunity and the end of social distancing flu could be a real problem through the holiday season. Joining me is San Diego union Tribune health care reporter, Paul Sisson, and Paul welcome. What are the factors that might make this a bad flu?
Speaker 2: (00:34)
You know, there are several, as you mentioned, we're just doing a lot less social distancing and masking and, you know, maybe hand-washing as well than we were this time, last year, headed into a season when many more people are going to be closer together than they usually are because the weather is getting colder. So there are fewer events and activities happening, outdoors events generally, uh, you know, just a ripe, uh, situation for viruses, especially respiratory viruses to spread from person to person. And then we've got a really kind of interesting additional situation with the flu this year. Uh, public health experts that I've been speaking to have been mentioning that because we didn't have a severe flu season last year due to all of the, uh, special precautions we had in place, uh, that we weren't exposed to the flu as much as we usually are as a community. Uh, and so that means that our immune systems didn't have to fight off this bug like they usually do. And that creates a less antibody protection overall in the community than is usually the case.
Speaker 1: (01:36)
How does immunity work from year to year with the flu? Does, does immunity declined fast?
Speaker 2: (01:43)
Uh, yeah, you know, it's really interesting. I spent a fair amount of back and forth time, but, uh, there's a really good researcher over at U C S D last week on this very topic. Uh, you know, you may recall that back in 2009, when we had the H one N one epidemic, uh, older people were more protected than younger people, uh, and they found it and found out that that's because, uh, older folks were, uh, exposed to certain flu viruses, uh, many decades ago that looked a lot like H one N one that showed up in 2009 and caused so much trouble. Uh, and so really the way our immune systems work from what I understand is that we have long lasting memory cells that remember what viruses we have encountered before. Uh, but those memory cells have to be kind of nudged by, uh, by a new threat to begins, uh, producing, uh, the special B cells in our bone marrow and other in plasma to, uh, to, to create the antibodies in our blood that we need. And, and research is showing that, uh, for the flu, those, those antibody producing cells don't last so long, they may be gone within a year. Uh, so just the act of re-encounter during the flu causes our immune system to start producing a whole nother batch of antibodies for, for a lot of different flu viruses that we've encountered before. And so just having that encounter really gets everybody almost like a booster shot that, that creates some level of herd immunity in the community that lasts until the next season. So why are
Speaker 1: (03:14)
We encouraged to get a flu shot every
Speaker 2: (03:16)
Year? That's it actually has two, uh, simultaneous functions, uh, in one case the flu mutates, very Fastly it's a, it's a very quick changing virus that, uh, that needs to have a retargeting of the vaccine every year to, to fight the versions that are going to be circulating in, in various communities. So we need sort of a retargeting. And at the same time, we also need a, almost like a booster shot just to get our, our system making antibodies against a lot of different versions of flu that look like the one that is going to be coming around.
Speaker 1: (03:52)
And when do flu cases actually start to
Speaker 2: (03:55)
Spike? If you look at the annual chart that the county puts out, uh, every week, uh, it's pretty clear that mid to late November is usually the time when we really see kind of that hockey stick curve really sharply heading up, and then it continues to increase through the holidays and into the new year.
Speaker 1: (04:11)
How long does it take for a shot that maybe I got today to provide immune,
Speaker 2: (04:16)
Let the experts say is it takes about two weeks. Uh, so that's really why they're urging folks to come forward now and get vaccinated just because it's going to take two weeks for immunity to build in your body. And then by then we'll be into mid November. So, so it's really a good idea to get after it right now, if you can,
Speaker 1: (04:33)
You know, we've been so inundated with concerns over COVID-19 and rightly so, but perhaps we forget that how badly ill one can get with the flu. So how seriously ill can you get with a case?
Speaker 2: (04:48)
I mean, you can die from the flu, uh, the CDC estimates that the flu kills between 12,050 2000 people per year nationwide. Uh, and that really depends on the severity of the individual year, uh, and you know, how well the vaccines are matched to the circulating version. Um, that's, that's really causing all of the illness. Um, it can definitely put you in the hospital, uh, you know, and often you'll see a secondary, uh, pneumonia that comes from, uh, you know, after, after flu infection,
Speaker 1: (05:19)
Our hospitals and other healthcare providers may be getting ready for what could potentially be a dual surge in COVID and flu.
Speaker 2: (05:28)
Yeah. I mean, I think they're always trying to be ready for anything that comes at them. Um, I think they are definitely very concerned right now about staffing shortages that started this summer. Uh, you know, and then, uh, the COVID mandates that have, uh, reduced the size of their workforce. So yeah, I think that they are definitely doing what they can to get ready, but they've been telling us all summer that they're really struggling to, uh, to meet their staffing needs. Uh, so anything we could do to stay out of their hospitals, I think they'd really appreciate, there's been a
Speaker 1: (05:57)
Lot of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. The flu vaccine though, is a different beast entirely. Do we anticipate any lingering hesitancy when it comes to getting a flu shot this year?
Speaker 2: (06:09)
I think there's always been a fair amount of hesitancy. I think we usually get a, about a million and a half, or maybe a little less than that, uh, flu vaccines in arms every year. So I think our vaccination rate is usually something around 50%. Uh, so, so there's always been a fair amount of reluctance. Um, you last year was a, I think they set a record in terms of the number of total number of folks who came forward for flu shots. Uh, and so it's hard to say really a, you know, a lot of folks may have come forward for the, uh, COVID vaccine and previously not received the flu vaccine. So it, it may, I guess it could go either way. I haven't really heard any experts weigh in on exactly how they expect those two factors to influence each other.
Speaker 1: (06:52)
And can you get flu shots as easily as COVID shot?
Speaker 2: (06:56)
Oh, absolutely. Um, maybe even easier, you know, uh, all of the pharmacies can give them to you, uh, plus your, all of your healthcare, uh, uh, organizations, all of their main medical offices, uh, are able to give flu shots. Uh, and the county has, uh, immunization clinics out there for those who, who don't have a primary medical provider. So, uh, yeah, it's, it's, it's very easy to get a flu shot if you want one, okay.
Speaker 1: (07:23)
Time to get another shot. I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, healthcare reporter, Paul says, and Paul, thank you.
Speaker 2: (07:29)
Thanks for having me.
San Diego public health officials are urging residents to get their flu shots as soon as possible, as they warn about the potential for a bad flu season ahead.
The urgency comes in part due to the fact that the number of people getting flu shots in the county is lagging from this time last year.
Lockdowns and social distancing precautions also helped to keep transmission during last year's flu season much lower than usual.
However, experts warn that with decreased immunity and the end of social distancing, flu could be a major problem through the holiday season.