SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – With flu season right around the corner, the push to vaccinate is stronger than ever before as Utah healthcare workers are being pushed to a breaking point.
Despite a record low number of flu cases last year, some health experts believe this season will look a lot different based on the multiple viruses that are circulating and people’s willingness to mask up.
ABC4 spoke with Dr. Tamara Sheffield the medical director for preventive medicine at Intermountain Healthcare. She said now is the perfect time to get your Influenza vaccine and your COVID-19 vaccine if you haven’t gotten it yet.
“The initial two doses or one dose of the J and J you can get at the same time as any other vaccine including the influenza vaccine,” Dr. Sheffield said.
The race to vaccinate comes as COVID patients continue to strain resources in hospitals across the state with 485 hospitalized and an additional 186 in the ICU.
“There’s a real concern that especially with the fact that our ICUs are full right now, Influenza as it comes in…could add to the problem,” Dr. Sheffield said.
According to the Utah Department of Health, when 85% capacity is reached, Utah will be functionally out of staffed ICU beds, indicating an overwhelmed hospital system. Currently, 86.8% of all ICU beds are occupied in Utah with both COVID and non-COVID patients.
“Right now, what we are dealing with is a different twindemic…which is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) virus and COVID-19,” Dr. Sheffield said.
Unlike last year, there are multiple respiratory viruses circulating in the community.
“Now that we have changed our behavior…we are not masking, we are getting together again, those viruses that are respiratory viruses just like COVID are spreading like crazy and we expect that it’s possible the same thing may happen with Influenza,” Dr. Sheffield said.
Typically, in December and January, Doctor Sheffield expects to see around 1,000 flu cases per week in the entire system.
“This year during January and February, even though we tested thousands of people, we had zero cases of Influenza and it was primarily because we were doing things that keep influenza from passing,” Dr. Sheffield said.
This includes social distancing, a record number of flu vaccinations, and people masking up.
“If I could just have everyone mask up in the state, I would be such a happy person because I would be seeing those zeros again of Influenza cases,” Dr. Sheffield said
Some health experts believe this upcoming flu season might be harder to contain than the last.
“We don’t have the ability to do some of the health measures that we did last year,” Dr. Sheffield said.
We have had legislative changes that do not allow our health departments from a state standpoint to tell people they have to mask up,”
However, she’s hopeful that high Flu vaccination rates continue and translate into more people getting the COVID-19 vaccine while they’re at it.
“That is a blessing, they are seen as really different. People have had years of experience with the Influenza vaccine, they know how they feel when they get it, they know it protects them,” Dr. Sheffield said.