By Nnandi Massac, Communications Intern
The holiday season has arrived and with it comes family gatherings, work parties, and something less fun: increased flu activity. In the first two months of this flu season (October 1 to November 30), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 2.5 million illnesses, 1.2 million medical visits, 29,000 hospitalizations, and 2,400 deaths were associated with influenza. With over 37.4 million flu illnesses estimated for the 2019-2020 flu season, and flu activity likely to continue into February and possibly even into May, it’s not too late to get prepared and get vaccinated. Every year, National Influenza Vaccination Week reminds of us this.
Sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and observed this year from December 1-7, National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) is a national awareness week that focuses on highlighting the importance of influenza vaccinations. During this week, local health departments and their public health partners remind communities about protecting themselves and loved ones with the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is recommended yearly for everyone ages six months and older as the first and most important step to help prevent flu. Annually, the vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and medical visits, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths, helping protect everyone who may be vulnerable to the flu and diminishing the severity of illness in people who still get sick.
While many people have already been vaccinated, it’s important to continue to promote the vaccine and continue vaccination efforts because influenza activity peaks each year between November and March. Plus, increasing vaccination rates can help protect those who may not be able to get vaccinated or are at high risk of serious flu complications including pregnant women, children, people 65 years and older, and babies younger than six months.
To continue promoting the importance of the flu vaccine in your communities, check out CDC’s NIVW digital media toolkit to access matte articles, flyers, posters, videos and toolkits. In addition to these resources, new tools are also available to help local health departments track influenza and immunization activities in their communities.
Using Surveillance to Track & Respond to Flu Activity
While continuing to vaccinate during flu season, surveillance also remains important. Flu Near You is a participatory surveillance system that engages the public in reporting on their health. A brief survey, consisting of a set of 10 symptom questions and a few follow-up questions, is sent out weekly and completed through the website or the mobile application. The survey lets individuals report symptoms in real-time, including date of onset, and answers that meet the definition of influenza-like-illness (ILI) are displayed on a digital map showing ILI rates in a given area.
The CDC also has flu updates and activity and surveillance tools available, along with resources to find where influenza vaccines are being administered in your community. The Flu Vaccine Finder allows people in your community to locate flu vaccine clinics convenient to them; simply enter a zip code or city and state to find mapped locations of flu vaccine clinics. Widgets and banners for the Flu Vaccine Finder are available here to post on your website.
Promoting the Flu Shot at NACCHO: Leading by Example
Annually, public health officials prepare for the flu season and emphasize the importance of receiving the flu vaccine. While NACCHO advocates for healthy communities across the nation, we recognize that it is important that the organization also advocate for the health and wellness of its own community. To “lead by example,” NACCHO sought to create a culture of total wellness and prepare staff for the upcoming influenza season by hosting a Wellness and Flu Vaccination Event on September 25, 2019. Held for the third consecutive year, the event featured health screenings, flu vaccinations, and statements from CEO Lori Tremmel Freeman and President George T. Roberts, Jr. Over 30 staff members received their flu vaccine and health screenings. To learn more about why we host this event, check out this Story from the Field.
The flu vaccine can save lives, prevent severe morbidity, and lower healthcare costs, so take advantage of the tools from National Influenza Vaccination Week to promote the flu vaccine in your community. Additional information and resources are available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/nivw/.