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By Victor Omondi

Health experts are urging Americans to get flu shots, saying a flu season that failed to show up last year while most of society was shut down could resurface in the months ahead, putting hospitals under strain.

According to survey results released on Thursday, slightly more than half of all individuals in the United States intend to get vaccinated against influenza. That’s not much of a shift from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases’ pre-pandemic surveys, but health officials are concerned since some evidence pointed to a potentially more severe flu season. Since few individuals were affected in 2020, experts believe Americans have built up less natural immunity to influenza.

In a Thursday briefing detailing flu vaccine efforts, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said, “This low flu activity was likely due to the widespread implementation of covid-19 preventive measures like masks, physical distancing and staying home.”

“Because of so little disease last year, population immunity is likely lower, putting us all at risk of increased disease this year,” she noted.

The comeback of common viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in the United States has already followed a similar trajectory. Hospitals reported a startling high proportion of toddlers presenting with severe illnesses, likely because they were not exposed as infants during the early months of lockdown.

Flu viruses may resurface this fall and winter, with additional opportunity to transmit in reopened schools, workplaces, and companies, especially where masks are not required. Hospitals already dealing with simultaneous pediatric rises in covid-19 and RSV fear that if flu and coronavirus admissions spike at the same time in the months ahead, oxygen and personnel will be stretched tight – a nightmare scenario they escaped during the last winter surge.

According to Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, the anxieties are especially acute after hospital systems, particularly in the South, failed to manage the summer wave of covid-19 admissions.

She mentioned that certain hospitals, particularly those in Florida and California, were running out of oxygen due to the high demand from covid-19 patients who were having difficulty breathing. Hospital executives are particularly concerned about burnout among doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists who have been on the front lines of the pandemic and have grown angry as they deal with coronavirus outbreaks that could have been avoided with more effective vaccinations.

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