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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Public health officials are warning that the U.S. may be on the verge of a dangerous double whammy: COVID and flu, spreading simultaneously.

The big picture: The Delta variant is still circulating across the U.S., and the Omicron variant isn't far behind. On top of that, experts see potential warning signs of a bad flu season, which could leave millions of Americans vulnerable and strain health care resources.

What they're saying: "If people resume 'life as normal' without masking and without getting flu shots or COVID shots, then I think we're in for a tough winter," said Gregg Miller, the chief medical officer of Vituity, a firm that staffs hospital emergency departments.

  • "Many of us have been concerned this year may be a worse influenza season, but it's too early to say," Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University and Bellevue Hospital told Axios.

By the numbers: Just 60% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID.

  • 41% of adults have gotten a flu shot, according to the CDC, as have 39% of children — significantly lower than the same point last year.

State of play: The CDC has said flu activity is still low nationwide, but recently issued a warning to providers about the early circulation of a strain of flu known as influenza A(H3N2).

  • Previous seasons in which that virus was the predominant strain saw more hospitalizations and deaths among people 65 and older. The viruses also evolve more rapidly to escape human immunity, the CDC said.

Between the lines: A bad flu season could further exacerbate the health disparities highlighted by the pandemic.

  • Vaccination rates tend to be lower among Black and Latino Americans than white Americans, per the CDC.

The bottom line: "Overall health care capacity is the biggest concern. If it turns out we have a bad flu season, that begins to overwhelm urgent care and primary care, in addition to what could be another surge of COVID," said Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

  • "So obviously the number one recommendation for all of us is vaccination," he said.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

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