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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.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

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