The rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation brings new challenges for engaging members around this year’s flu. Vaccinations are at the forefront of public health news, and with many Americans remaining hesitant or on the fence about receiving a COVID vaccine, it is more critical than ever to drive education around the simultaneous importance of flu vaccines, which may not be top of mind for healthcare consumers. Health plans and providers must take an agile approach to ensure individuals are empowered to make the best and most informed decisions for their overall health.
COVID-19 and the Flu: Lessons from Last Year
During the 2020-2021 flu season, the CDC reported that only .2% of respiratory specimens tested were positive for influenza, which was significantly lower than in previous years. In the past, we have seen anywhere from 26-30% of tests returning positive results. This decline is likely attributed to the increased health and safety measures that resulted from COVID-19, such as social distancing, face masks, washing hands, etc., and could also be the record number of influenza doses distributed in the US (193.8 million).
Several other studies have found an interesting correlation: people who received the flu vaccine were less likely to experience major health complications from COVID-19, if infected.
The importance of maintaining these healthy habits and vaccinating against the flu regardless of COVID vaccination status must be emphasized to members with thoughtful, coordinated education and outreach.
Predictions and a Plan of Action
Some experts propose that since we effectively “skipped” last year’s flu season, the 2021-2022 season could be much worse. We may not have been as exposed to these pathogens throughout the past year, so our immune defenses may be weaker, and as the country reopens, we may see a significant surge in respiratory viruses.
The flu can be challenging to predict even without the added complication of a global pandemic, so it is difficult to say what it will look like this year. Additionally, restrictions and safety mandates change frequently due to the Delta variant surge and vary state by state, which will affect exposure.
The only constant is change, and healthcare organizations must be ready to tackle new developments and challenges that will inevitably arise throughout the course of this year’s flu season.
Effective flu engagement solutions for 2021-2022 should:
- Address barriers and questions at the individual level around both COVID-19 and the flu
- Proactively educate with several types of content to resonate with diverse populations
- Adjust programs in response to the latest information
- Understand individual needs and provide resources on the preferred channel