Millions of extra flu vaccine doses will be available in the United States as the country seeks to avoid a simultaneous hit of a flu epidemic this winter with an increasing number of novel coronavirus cases.
Flu vaccine manufacturers estimate that they will supply a record 198 million doses of influenza vaccine for the 2020-21 season.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) usually purchases 500,000 flu doses for uninsured adults, but this year ordered an additional 9.3 million doses. "This is a big move," said CDC Director Dr Robert. Redfield.
"Vaccine distribution is expected to go on longer this season because a record number of doses are being produced," the CDC said.
There have been no delays in production among the private companies that manufacture the medicine, including Seqirus, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and Protein Sciences Inc. Flu vaccine shipments began earlier this year and will continue through November until all are distributed.
The 2019-20 flu season in the US was mild, the CDC said, with between 39 million to 56 million infections, 740,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 to 62,000 flu-related deaths.
In the 2018-19 season, the flu vaccine prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths, the CDC said.
The advanced preparedness for the 2020-21 flu season comes as several states deal with a new wave of coronavirus cases, prompting fears cases of the flu and COVID-19 both could strain emergency rooms.
The novel coronavirus has infected more than 8.1 million Americans, and COVID-19 has killed 219,666, according to data reported by John Hopkins University as of Sunday.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the coming months could be tough due to the flu.
"We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it's not going to be easy," Fauci told a panel of doctors from Harvard Medical School. "What I would like to see is keeping the lid on it, keeping the baseline down, until we get a vaccine."
Dr David Weber, professor of medicine at the division of infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that especially the very old and young should get a flu vaccination quickly, as they are at increased risk. But he added that all adults are at risk, so they, too, should get the flu shot.
"It doesn't mean at any age you are safe," he told China Daily.
Dr William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said, "Anyone who is older and has any kind of chronic or underlying illness ought to be cautious."
Every year, about 2,000 New Yorkers die of seasonal flu and pneumonia, which can develop as a complication of the flu, according to the city's health department. And this year the city's hospitals are on high alert for "nightmare" scenarios that a deluge of cases from both respiratory illnesses could cause.
New York state's health department advises that children under 5, adults over 50 and pregnant women prioritize vaccinations. Health officials will hold outdoor flu vaccination pop-up events throughout the city this season.