As the coronavirus pandemic swings into flu season, local health experts are doubling down on their annual pleas for widespread flu vaccinations and other disease-slowing precautions.
“People are worried about two viral epidemics happening at the same time,” Dr. Michael Newstein, infectious disease specialist and chair of the Department of Medicine at Milford Regional Medical Center said.
Health officials say they are hoping to avoid adding a wave of flu patients to a medical system already bearing the weight of a months-long pandemic.
“We want to, this year, obviously save our medical resources,” Milford Health Director Jacquelyn Murphy said. “It’s possible we could be completely overwhelmed by the need for COVID care and flu care simultaneously.”
Officials also pointed out that COVID-19 shares many symptoms with the flu, adding confusion into the mix.
“We want to minimize the confusion around symptoms while the health care system is getting a lot people with COVID symptoms,” Framingham Assistant Director of Public Health Alexandra DePalo said. “We want to make sure we don’t add to an already stressed healthcare system.”
MetroWest area health departments are viewing flu clinics as dry runs for COVID-19 vaccine distribution
Fortunately, local health experts said, the now long-familiar techniques for slowing the spread of COVID-19 also work well against the flu – from social distancing to mask-wearing, to hand-washing.
If everyone follows those rules, Newstein said, the region could be in for a milder-than-usual season.
“We’re hopeful that maybe these measures may reduce the intensity of the flu season,” he said.
The flu shot is an important part of that, he and others emphasized.
“The key here is not to end up with a lot of community members who have flu if they could otherwise prevent it with a flu shot,” DePalo said. “It’s for ourselves, it’s for our neighbors and our families and our friends. …. We really encourage people to get a flu shot.”
Some towns already held flu clinics the last week of September or in the first few days of October. Framingham vaccinated over a thousand people, DePalo said, in a new drive-through model.
Second clinics depend on how much flu vaccine each city or town is allotted by the state, health workers in Natick and Franklin said.
A handful of towns said they hope to hold a flu clinic, but don’t yet have details. Some officials, like those in Hopedale and Hopkinton, are sure there will be a clinic and need to finalize details, while others, like those in Millis, say they are still weighing a public clinic against more targeted appointments for high-risk populations and municipal employees, and also waiting for final vaccine shipments from the state.
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Alison Bosma can be reached at 508-634-7482 or [email protected] Find her on Twitter at @AlisonBosma.