Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead and an infectious disease epidemiologist, said people need to get vaccinated against influenza when the vaccine becomes available, otherwise it could “complicate the clinical picture.”
“It will be quite difficult if somebody is infected with either COVID-19 or the flu and they have a flu-like illness or cold-like symptoms,” Kerkhove said during a press conference Tuesday. “We won’t be able to distinguish immediately between whether somebody has flu or whether somebody has COVID-19.”
However, Kerkhove said there are tools in place to manage influenza, underscoring the importance of controlling the flu amid the ongoing progression of the coronavirus pandemic.
By the time COVID-19 took hold of the Northern Hemisphere this year, WHO Senior Adviser Bruce Aylward noted that most places were already coming out of the flu season. This meant that the extra surge capacity in hospitals for influenza was then allocated to manage the critically sick patients who fell ill from COVID-19.
“So it’s important to get the flu vaccination rates up this year, even relative to previous years,” he said. “Because we need that capacity potentially to manage COVID also this year.”
There is still a “huge susceptibility gap” against the disease, Aylward said. What’s more, countries are already “going into a high season for transmission of respiratory illnesses,” which could only further complicate matters.
The recent warnings from WHO officials align with a recent advisory from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioning America to be prepared for the upcoming flu season.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo on “Mornings with Maria” that America needs to have the tools in place to respond to both the flu and COVID-19.
The agency is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and manufacturers to make sure there are enough flu vaccines available.
To date, there are more than 22 million cases of COVID-19 around the world and over 780,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.