While the scientific community continues to study and learn more about COVID-19, one thing health officials agree on is that we are soon to face one of the most challenging flu seasons in United States history. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), last year’s seasonal influenza epidemic resulted in tens of millions of cases and tens of thousands of deaths, which is unsurprising given that flu (and other causes of pneumonia) already ranks as the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S. More than mortality rates, influenza is known to cause substantial morbidity and hospital utilization among the elderly and those with underlying conditions. But this already significant national health risk is about to be substantially compounded as flu season converges with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why? In short, the same patients who are at the greatest risk for influenza – the elderly and those with underlying conditions – are the most vulnerable and adversely affected by COVID-19, forcing health officials to prepare to deal with two contagious respiratory viruses circulating simultaneously.
This unenviable circumstance begs the question – what can be done to help mitigate this looming public health crisis? As the community’s most accessible and knowledgeable care provider, PrescribeWellness wants to ensure pharmacists are equipped with the information and resources needed to best educate patients about population health, which is why we want to share four factors that can help determine the severity of the upcoming flu season, as outlined by CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield.3
Keep on social distancing
Fortunately, social distancing – in addition to wearing a mask and regularly washing your hands – are not only the best protections for limiting the spread of COVID-19 but also the flu. So, this flu season, re-tightening COVID-19 transmission measures could really help mitigate the spreading of both viruses.
While coronavirus vaccines may soon be a reality, the current reality is that they do not exist. But what does exist? Flu vaccines. And it is imperative influenza vaccination rates are increased, particularly among patients most susceptible to the flu and COVID-19. However, this is often easier said than done. Despite their efficacy and safety, flu vaccinations remain surprisingly unpopular among patients in the United States with less than half of Americans getting flu vaccines historically.4 Whether due to misinformation, disinformation, or some other reason, community pharmacists can help educate patients and get them to reconsider, because, in addition to helping prevent the contraction of the flu, a flu vaccine may help free up much-needed hospital resources for a COVID-19 patient.
Widespread rapid diagnostics
Co-infection with another respiratory pathogen, including the flu, occurred in more than 20% of COVID-19-positive patients who presented with a respiratory viral syndrome early in the pandemic.5 As a result, the widespread availability of rapid diagnostics for COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens is needed. It is important to note that community pharmacies can play a vital role in providing point-of-care testing for both the flu and coronavirus, expanding access and improving population health.
Focus on vulnerable populations
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted alarming disparities in communities of color, the poor, and older adults – particularly among African Americans, Latins, and Native Americans. Public health efforts and care services mentioned above must be focused on these vulnerable segments of the population. See here for a recent message from Dr. Farah Madhat, EVP for PrescribeWellness, describing the key role that community pharmacists play in ensuring accessibility of care for all patients.
Prepare with PrescribeWellness
With the biggest and most critical flu shot season in history fast-approaching, community pharmacists must have their workflow in order to ensure successful vaccine delivery. Thankfully, PrescribeWellness offers solutions to identify opportunities for vaccinations across your entire patient population. Need additional support implementing vaccinations into your pharmacy workflow? PrescribeWellness can also help jump-start your workflow for a successful vaccination clinic that can be sustained year-round.
To learn how PrescribeWellness can help you provide vaccinations to support long-term health in your community, connect with us today.