CDC director warns of major public health complications if public doesn't take flu and COVID-19 seriously

A nurse preparing a medical injection
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is worried about hesitancy among the public in getting a flu shot, which is going to be more pivotal with COVID-19. (Getty/scyther5)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is scrambling to ensure there are enough supplies of—and public confidence in—the flu vaccine as fall approaches and COVID-19 is still spreading in the U.S.

“This fall and winter could be one of the most complicated public health times we have with the two coming at the same time,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., referring to COVID-19 and the flu.

Speaking during a livestream Thursday with the Journal of the American Medical Association, Redfield noted that he is an “optimist.” If the public heeds advice on social distancing and hand-washing, this could become “one of the best flu seasons that we have," he said.

Redfield said the federal government purchased an additional 9.3 million doses of flu vaccine to shore up enough public access.

“This is a critical year for us to try to take flu as much off the table as we can,” he said. “Our hospital capacity could get strained.”

RELATED: Flu vaccines may not decrease hospitalizations and death among elderly, study suggests

Redfield wrote in an editorial in the journal Thursday that less than half of U.S. adults get the flu vaccine each year.

“Even after the severe 2017-2018 influenza season, overall vaccine coverage remained at about 45% during the subsequent (2018-2019) season,” the article said.

Vaccine coverage estimates were also substantially lower for non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaskan native adults relative to non-Hispanic white adults, the article added.

Redfield urged physicians to strongly recommend the flu vaccine to their patients throughout the year, saying they should administer the vaccine whenever possible.

Some data indicate more people are likely to get a flu shot this year. A survey of more than 1,000 adults fielded by UnitedHealthcare found that 34% are more likely to get the annual flu shot this year.

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