At a press conference yesterday, Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said efforts to address coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New Jersey may be impacted by the upcoming flu season.
“As we enter the fall season, we are also moving into the flu season. This year we are preparing for the possibility of a twin-demic: a severe flu season and a resurgence of COVID-19, which could strain healthcare resources,” she said.
During the winter months, Persichilli said, emergency rooms tend to see an influx of patients with flu-like symptoms, which are often similar to COVID-19 symptoms. She said it will be important for healthcare facilities across the state to have access to both COVID-19 and flu tests.
To help prevent straining the healthcare system, Persichilli said anyone in New Jersey six months of age or older should get a flu vaccination. She said the target is to have at least 70 percent of all healthy people vaccinated, but typically less than half of New Jersey residents eligible for a vaccine receive one.
Persichilli said individuals should get vaccinations not only to protect themselves from the flu and its potential complications, but also to protect vulnerable people, such as babies, young children, the elderly or people with certain pre-existing conditions.
“The flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, (but) the vaccine can reduce flu illnesses and hospitalizations,” she said.
Persichilli said it is possible to get vaccinated at any point when the flu is circulating, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended getting a vaccination by the end of October. She said early vaccinations are beneficial because it takes two weeks for antibodies to develop and provide protection against the flu.
Measures to prevent COVID-19 in the Southern Hemisphere also helped reduce flu transmission during its flu season, Persichilli said, and officials are hoping to see similar trends in New Jersey.
“What we don’t want to see is a really bad flu season with a resurgence of COVID(-19),” she said. “It would stress our systems terribly, but I do have to tell you we’re planning for it.”