Kaiser Permanente’s seasonal flu prevention efforts in Northern California are off to a good start with more than 965,000 vaccines given since they became available on September 11.
The number of calls to the Kaiser Permanente Appointment and Advice Call Center by members describing flu-like symptoms was lower in the first month of the season compared to the last 2 years.
But the flu season is just getting started and things could change rapidly for a number of reasons, said Darvin Scott Smith, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s clinical vaccine lead for Northern California.
That means it is vitally important for everyone to get vaccinated for the flu at locations near them. Last year for example, flu numbers were low until May when infections suddenly spiked.
Kaiser Permanente hopes to vaccinate 1.7 million members this flu season in Northern California.
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, it is safe and recommended to get a COVID-19 vaccine, whether an initial shot or booster, on the same day as a flu shot, Dr. Smith said.
“We’re trying to encourage COVID-19 vaccines to be given together with flu shots whenever possible,” said Dr. Smith. “Over the last couple of years, there was some question about getting both together, but now we know that it is fine. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe to get with other vaccines.”
Both vaccines help keep people out of the hospital, and they help prevent death, said Dr. Smith. They also take the edge off the severity of the symptoms.
The flu positivity rate for patient testing due to symptoms in the first 4 weeks of this season shows a statistically insignificant rate hovering just above zero, which is lower than the very low rates of last year and the year before.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, however, the test positivity rate in October of 2019 was much higher, at about 20% and then it spiked to 40% in January of 2020. Last year positive tests peaked at about 15% but not until May, which is unusual for a flu season.
Dr. Smith is not given to making predictions for how severe or mild a particular flu season will turn out, but he said several factors could conspire to make this year’s season difficult.
Mild seasons in the two previous years and a lower nationwide number of people getting flu shots has lowered immunity of communities, decreasing COVID-19 precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing will make more people vulnerable to flu, and a more severe flu season in the southern hemisphere, with the highest number of cases in 5 years, might be a predictor of things to come this year at home.
“The good news is we are off to a good start with few calls to the Appointment and Advice line so far, and with plenty of flu vaccines available,” said Dr. Smith.
To find a flu shot clinic near you in Northern California, visit the Kaiser Permanente My Doctor Online web page.