Scientists say it’s been a mild flu season as COVID-19 health precautions helped minimize influenza infections

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CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The Center for Disease Control says it’s been a mild flu year in the United States and globally while the COVID-19 pandemic is on-going.

In the beginning of the pandemic, some people attempted to compare the coronavirus to the flu, now new figures confirm what many scientists said from the beginning, there’s no comparison.

“It’s never been like the flu for two major reasons. Number one COVID-19 does seem to be more infectious when compared to the flu. The other difference is that the mortality from COVID tends to be higher than that of the flu,” Baystate Health Infectious Disease expert, Dr. Esteban DelPilar-Morales told 22News.

The flu ranks among the 15 leading causes of death in America, but COVID-19 deaths since the outbreak began out ranks any flu year. Adding up flu deaths from 2011 to 2020 comes to nearly 360,000 Americans. More than 513,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the disease surfaced in 2020.

Dr. Esteban DelPilar-Morales told 22News that 1% or on a low flu year, between .5%-.7% of people who get the flu, die. But at the beginning of the pandemic the mortality for COVID-19 was almost 3%. Now the most recent estimate is 1.8%, still higher than the flu.

Source: New York Times

Dr. DelPilar-Morales said Baystate Medical Center has had no patients admitted to the hospital with the flu this season (started September 2020). This flu season Baystate had 1499 confirmed cases of the flu, compared to this week in 2019 there were 14,000 cases alone.

Dr. DelPilar-Morales said flu vaccinations have increased dramatically this year compared to previous years. Between 160 and 170 million people typically get flu vaccinations but this year Americans have almost gotten to 200 million vaccines. He also said mask wearing has contributed to the low numbers.

“We’re all wearing masks and the transmission of the flu is less if on top of that you’re adding the layer of actually having face protection, it drops down how many people will actually get the flu. That just goes to show that when we tell you that masks work, this is the biggest evidence I can present to you that masks actually work,” Dr. DelPilar-Morales said.

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, like SARS was, which usually stick around for years. But just like the flu comes around every year, will COVID? And will we ever get to a point where there’s no COVID-19?

“We still don’t know, that’s a possibility. Obviously as more variants come on it will depend on how well the vaccine will perform in those variants,” Dr. DelPilar-Morales said.

When the Nature journal polled 119 scientists working on COVID-19, 89% felt COVID-19 will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population, also know as an endemic, just like the flu.

Dr. DelPilar-Morales said it also depends on how many people get the vaccine, and how long immunity from the vaccine lasts.

“Lets say for argument sake that the vaccine immunity lasts more than a year and we get enough people vaccinated to reach robust herb immunity. It’s possible this might go away similar to SARS did,” Dr. DelPilar-Morales said.

But if that’s not the case, the situation could be different. “If the immunity doesn’t last that long and perhaps the vaccines doesn’t work as well against the variants then you might start to see that it might be something we have around and we might need to get vaccinated every year,” he told 22News.

Or there’s a third option. “It might be things that pop up every once in a while and we just go into that community and vaccinate everyone again and make sure that it just stays contained,” Dr. DelPilar-Morales continued.

If we look at Israel, which has vaccinated the largest share of their population, only 3.5 people out of 100,000 vaccinated people were hospitalized with COVID-19. Comparatively, during a normal flu year in America, 150 out of every 100,000 people are admitted to the hospital with the flu.

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