Delaware aims to repeat 2020 flu vaccination success

By Tim Mastro
Posted 10/10/21

There was no “twindemic” with COVID-19 and the flu last year.

Flu season was almost nonexistent, in fact. The Delaware Division of Public Health reported only one flu-related death and …

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Delaware aims to repeat 2020 flu vaccination success

Posted

There was no “twindemic” with COVID-19 and the flu last year.

Flu season was almost nonexistent, in fact. The Delaware Division of Public Health reported only one flu-related death and 11 cases of flu for the 2020-2021 flu season — by far the lowest total since DPH began tracking cases in 2004-2005.

The state and its providers credited a strong flu vaccination campaign for last season’s success and hope to replicate that once again for the 2021-2022 season.

“The community really heard the message of the importance of getting the influenza vaccine during the pandemic,” said Kim Blanch, RN, director of population health and community outreach at Beebe Healthcare. “We hope that folks realize how important it is again this year and come to one of our many free clinics which, as always, are off to a great start.”

The 2020-2021 flu season was Delaware’s best since a total of just 267 was reported for the entire 2011-2012 season.

Last year’s flu season was a strong contrast to the year prior in 2019-2020, when 7,075 cases were reported to the DPH and 400 individuals ended up hospitalized. There were also 11 recorded deaths due to the flu in 2019-2020.

DPH’s flu data only includes those reported to the agency. It likely does not reflect the total number of individuals who were infected with the virus in Delaware during the reporting period, because many people ill with influenza-like symptoms do not seek medical care.

DPH said in a statement that children younger than 5, older adults, pregnant women, and those who have chronic underlying medical conditions are most at risk for complications from the flu and are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated now. DPH also urged vaccination for those who live or work with infants under 6 months of age, as well as those who live or work in congregate settings such as long-term care and correctional facilities.

Last year’s flu season was also aided by restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The state still had capacity limits, a mask mandate and schools, one of the main areas where flu is spread, were either operating on fully virtual or hybrid models.

DPH director Dr. Karyl Rattay said flu season is usually unpredictable year-to-year and encouraged vaccinations with more Delawareans gathering outside their homes and fewer people wearing masks compared to last flu season.

“These things make it easier for the flu to spread,” Dr. Rattay said. “The flu vaccine is the strongest defense when it comes to keeping yourself and family members safe and preventing severe illness, hospitalization and possibly death.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends receiving the flu vaccine by the end of October. It offers a free resource online for those looking for a flu shot in their neighborhood. People can visit www.vaccinefinder.org to search for flu vaccines by zip code.

Flu season starts in October and can last until anywhere from March to May. The peak is usually by the end of February, according to CDC, but sometimes that peak can last into March depending on the year.

Receiving the flu vaccine now will provide immunity for the entire flu season. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against influenza virus infection to develop in the body.

Delawareans are also encouraged to continue best practices to limit the spread of germs — especially staying home if they feel sick. Ms. Blanch said to not forget about frequent hand-washing, watching one’s distance when in public and mask-wearing in large groups to protect against both the flu and COVID-19.

“Looking at the data, you can really see that these strategies worked (last season),” Ms. Blanch said. “The combination of a high number of flu vaccinations paired with the preventative measures our community was taking at the time very likely contributed to the significant decrease in influenza cases we experienced.”

Individuals can receive the flu vaccine at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine.

DPH will again be sharing flu-related messaging through radio, print and social media messaging this season. The agency is also distributing a flu toolkit to schools, community-based organizations and medical providers to help encourage flu vaccination through their networks.