COVID-19 surge and bad flu season could cause ‘twindemic’

Health officials are concerned about a potentially bad flu season and COVID-19 surge combining to create a “twindemic” that could further overwhelm the health care system — unless enough people get vaccinated for both viruses.

“The vaccines are safe, they’re effective and they’re readily available,” said Lori Kelley, senior director of quality and patient safety at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. “The only way we are going to save ourselves, our family and our communities by creating this culture of health is to get vaccinated.”

Flu cases dropped to historic lows last year, as measures designed to protect people from COVID-19 transmission helped to block out other respiratory illnesses.

With the lockdowns lifted, less masking and more people gathering in-person for work, school and the holidays, health officials are anticipating increased flu activity in late fall and winter.

COVID-19 and the flu can both attack the lungs and cause serious medical problems, such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, fluid in the lungs or even death. Those complications are especially concerning for at-risk groups.

“People who are immunocompromised, are elderly, are small children, who are infants or who have other underlying health conditions are all people that we want to take those extra steps to protect,” Kelley said.

Kelley said if a person is already sick with the flu, their immune system might be more susceptible to getting COVID-19 at the same time. She said a person with COVID-19 might also be especially vulnerable to getting the flu.

“We do believe that by reducing your risk of getting influenza and generally being more healthy, you may be able to reduce some of your risk of getting COVID-19 or getting substantially ill from COVID-19,” Kelley said.

RELATED: Washington Dept. of Health encourages flu vaccination

Health officials are recommending everyone age 6 months of age and older get the flu vaccine, which they can get at the same time as their COVID-19 vaccination. Kelley said if flu activity increases, hospitals will likely see more patients with influenza requiring hospitalization.

“We are all aware that our hospital beds and intensive care units are already taxed; we are already stressing our medical health care system,” Kelley said. “So, it makes sense, of course, to save yourself time, save yourself from hospitalization and the stress that comes with that, by getting vaccinated.”

Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic offers $15 flu vaccines at clinics each week at locations across Yakima County.

The Yakima Health District is also holding immunization and flu clinics in the community through Nov. 1 in partnership with local schools, Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, Community Health Plan of WA, Columbia Safety, Highland Clinic, Swofford and Halma Clinic, and Nuestra Casa.

The flu vaccine is free for individuals age 18 and younger and $25 for adults who do not have medical insurance at the Oct. 28 and Nov. 1 clinics.

  • Thursday, Oct. 28: An immunization clinic will be held from from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at West Valley Jr. High School, located at 7505 Zier Rd. in Yakima. The clinic is open to the public and will provide routine childhood immunizations for kids under 18, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 12 and older and the flu vaccine for anyone six months and older.
  • Friday, Oct. 29: An immunization clinic will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Nuestra Casa, located at 906 E. Edison Ave. in Sunnyside. The clinic is open to the public and will provide the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 12 and older, the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines for individuals 18 and older and the flu vaccine for anyone six months and older.
  • Saturday, Oct. 30: An immunization clinic will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highland High School, 17000 Summitview Rd. in Cowiche. The clinic will provide the flu vaccine for anyone six months old to 18 years old. It’s open to youth from the Highland community and students who attend schools in the Highland School District.
  • Monday, Nov. 1: An immunization clinic will be held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Student Family Center, 105 N. 4th Ave. in Yakima. The clinic is open to the public and will provide routine childhood immunizations for kids under 18, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 12 and older and the flu vaccine for anyone six months and older.

RECENT HEADLINES FROM THE KAPP-KVEW NEWS STAFF:

RELATED: Tri-Cities restaurant racks up complaints due to controversial COVID protocols