October is typically considered the official start of the flu season in the United States, but influenza has already arrived in Arizona and public health officials are hoping that it won’t be as bad as in recent years.
The 2017-18 flu season in Arizona was one of the worst on record, the second consecutive season that was particularly bad compared to previous years, data shows. Arizona officials have been keen on not repeating that trend, especially with COVID-19 still spreading within Arizona communities.
Currently, flu activity is listed as “sporadic” by the Arizona Department of Health Services, the second-lowest tier of activity for the flu other than “no activity.”
Last season, about five weeks after influenza arrived in Arizona it was upgraded to “local” spread that then turned to “regional” spread before quickly turning to widespread flu activity that lasted for months.
This season, there have already been 4 pediatric flu deaths. In the 2017-2018 season, there were a total of 5 pediatric flu deaths.
The 2017-18 flu season saw more than 35,000 cases, followed by more than 36,000 cases in 2018-19. Both of those shattered the previous high-water mark of 23,000 in the 2015-16 flu season.
Only 2 in 5 Arizona adults got a flu shot last year and state officials said that they are planning to push harder than ever to get messaging out about the shot and make it easier to get one.
“The number of publicly supplied vaccines through the VFC, VFA, and CHIP programs has been 89,650 doses to date, but note that this is not representative of total vaccination efforts in the state,” ADHS spokeswoman Holly Poynter told Arizona Mirror. “The total number of flu vaccines dispersed in Arizona is not available.”
Vaccines for Children, or VFC, is a federally funded program that provides vaccines to children at no cost. Vaccines for Adults, or VFA, is a similar program. Arizona’s Children Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, is another way that flu vaccines have been delivered.
Approximately 40% of the flu vaccines ordered through VFC by providers are available, Poynter said.
The state has been increasing its orders of the vaccine and so has the federal government. The CDC ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, dramatically more than the usual order of 500,000, to ensure that uninsured adults are able to have the vaccine, according to The Hill.
Pima County has obtained an additional 100,000 vaccines from ADHS, the Mirror previously reported. Those vaccines can be used on uninsured and underinsured people. Additionally the county is doing additional measures they haven’t done in the past.
In Arizona, the flu and pneumonia was the 10th-leading cause of death in 2018 when the state was hit hard by the virus with more than 1,116 deaths.
Arizona also has the highest number of nonmedical vaccination exemptions of anywhere in the country which ended it being labeled an “anti-vaccination hotspot.”
Those looking to get a flu shot can use vaccinefinder.org to help them find a provider or location to get a flu shot.