The four flu vaccine makers said they plan to ship nearly 200 million doses to the United States this year, up about 19% from last season. AstraZeneca, which makes the FluMist nasal spray vaccine, said it has increased its plans for this season by 25% due to an expected need for more doses this year.
“Both public and private demand for this coming season has been enormous,” said Elaine O’Hara, North America business operations manager for Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine unit of French drug maker Sanofi.
Less than half of American adults and about 60% of children typically get the flu shot each year, according to CDC data. Public health experts are targeting higher numbers this year to try to reduce the burden on hospitals already under stress from Covid-19.
“The last thing we want on top of that now is to have beds that could be used for Covid patients for influenza patients, ventilators that might be needed for Covid patients must now also be diverted to flu, ”said Dr. Jose Romero, pediatric infectious disease specialist and acting director of the Arkansas Department of Health.
Each year, the flu sickens between 9 million and 45 million Americans, causes at least 140,000 hospitalizations and leads to 12,000 to 61,000 deaths, according to the CDC.
And while the flu vaccine isn’t perfect – it ranges from 20 to 60 percent effectiveness each season, depending on scientists’ ability to predict which strains will circulate – the agency says the vaccine prevents millions of diseases and thousands of hospitalizations and deaths from influenza each year.
And, experts note, the vaccine can also lead to milder illness.
“So while we may have a mild case of the flu, there will be fewer severe cases of the flu that result in office visits that can overwhelm a doctor’s office or hospitalizations,” said Dr. Leonard Friedland, vice president and director of scientific affairs and public health for GlaxoSmithKline vaccines.
As the pandemic has prevented many doctors from making regular visits to the doctor, Friedland, who is also a practicing doctor, said GSK is launching an advertising campaign to remind people to make sure they are up to date on their vaccines. – for all vaccine-preventable diseases, not just the flu.
Meanwhile, public health officials are bracing for the uncertainty of the upcoming flu season in addition to Covid-19.
“It’s another reason to get the flu shot this year,” Romero said. “You don’t want to put Covid on top of the flu or the flu on top of Covid. Because we don’t know what the clinical manifestations will be. We can only assume or guess that they could be additive and it could be detrimental. ”
Public health experts also say it’s possible we may see a less severe flu season this year due to social distancing from Covid-19, use of masks and better hand hygiene – but only if we take these steps to protect ourselves and each other.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated AstraZeneca’s expeditions last year, both in text and in a table. The company said it had increased its plans for this season by 25%. As a result, total vaccine shipments will increase by about 19% compared to last season.