Dec 10, 2021 - News

"Twindemic" looms as flu vaccine rates wane

Illustration of a shield with DNA and a syringe

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Fewer Coloradans have received their flu shots this year compared to 2020, when a record number of people got the jab.

Why it matters: The downturn could have far-reaching consequences.

  • With the Delta variant of COVID-19 still dominant across Colorado and the Omicron variant on the rise, experts are concerned that a bad flu season could leave millions of people vulnerable and health care resources overwhelmed.

By the numbers: 200,000 more Coloradans had been immunized against the flu as of this time last year, state health officials tell Axios. As of Thursday, roughly 1.6 million residents have received the flu shot, just 28% of the population.

  • Colorado has recorded at least 36 flu hospitalizations since early October, an outbreak in a long-term care facility and no pediatric deaths, state health department data shows.

Yes, but: Flu vaccination rates in the first two weeks of November outpaced the same two weeks from last year, marking "a good sign," Colorado health department spokesperson AnneMarie Harper tells Axios.

Zoom in: In Denver, 47% of residents ages 65 and older have received their flu vaccine as of Nov. 7, the latest city data available show.

  • The second-highest rate by age group — 30% — is among the city's youngest residents, ages 0 to 4.
  • Denverites ages 18 to 29 are lagging the most, with records showing only 10% of the population is currently vaccinated.

What to watch: Colorado health officials are running a statewide advertising campaign to promote the flu vaccine and have rolled out 15 mobile buses to increase access.

  • Starting Saturday, the state will also stand up more than a dozen clinics offering flu and COVID shots at Denver's Ball Arena. The vaccine drive will coincide with major events at the facility.
  • Of note: There are more than 1,700 providers offering flu vaccines across the state, including grocery store pharmacies and doctors' offices.

The big picture: Although the CDC is reporting low flu activity nationwide for now, the public health agency 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 variant was the predominant strain saw more hospitalizations and deaths among people 65 and older, Axios' Tina Reed reports.
  • Meanwhile, just 41% of U.S. adults and 39% of children have gotten a flu shot, according to the CDC — significantly lower than at the same point last year.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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