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Sunday, December 4, 2022

The worst flu season in decades

This is the price of COVID-19 disinformation

Mark Sumner, Daily Kos Staff

In Rhode Island, flu is hitting young people the hardest (ages 5 to 24), Chart from the RI Department of Health

Last week, it became clear that under new CEO Elon Musk, Twitter had stopped enforcing a policy against spreading disinformation related to COVID-19 and vaccinations. They didn’t make a big announcement about this. It wasn’t until people began wondering why so much outright anti-vax nonsense was suddenly floating around, that it was discovered that Twitter had stopped trying to block such propaganda back in mid-November.

The cost of that disinformation campaign is absolutely measurable. In the United States, not only did the total number of Americans vaccinated with the original vaccine stall out at under 70%, the percentage who have gotten the latest bivariant booster, which has been available for three months, is a mind-boggling 12.7%. 

Rhode Island data by age group of percentage who have gotten the latest booster:

That number explains why, over the last few months, the number of new deaths among those who got the original vaccine has come to exceed the number of deaths among the unvaccinated.

According to the CDC, even among those who got the original vaccine, 81% have failed to get the latest booster. For most of those, all their shots and boosters are so far in the past, that the residual effect is much smaller than it was in the weeks and months after the vaccine was first administered. As a result, it’s expected another 120,000 Americans are projected to die of COVID-19 over the next year.

But that’s not all. That disinformation is leading directly to the worst flu season in many years, at a time when the U.S. is seeing one of the nastiest flu variants in some time.

The disinformation campaign around COVID-19 has done exactly what anti-vax forces hoped; it has spilled over into a growing resistance to vaccines in general. 

Right now the U.S. is seeing a decline in flu vaccinations. It’s also being hit with a variant of the flu that expresses the H3N2 proteins — a variety that has not been seen in so long that few Americans have any resistance. However, the current vaccine is well-matched for the strains of flu that are circulating, meaning that it provides good protection both against infection and against severe effects.

As The Washington Post reports, there’s a direct link between the anti-vax propaganda spread concerning the COVID-19 vaccines, and lower uptake of flu vaccines. Officials have even anticipated this, similar resistance has been displayed in both schools and the military against vaccines that have previously been routine.

The disinformation campaign has tried to make it seem as if, in protecting ourselves from COVID-19, we somehow lowered our resistance to flu. This is 100% not true. In fact, the opposite is true. It was ending the steps being taken against COVID-19 that has created conditions for a bad flu season.

Officials had been bracing for a more robust flu season this fall and winter because so many people have dropped covid protection measures and are reluctant to get vaccinated.

When people try to dismiss COVID-19 as a “mild” disease, with symptoms no worse than the flu, they’re forgetting how bad the flu actually is. Not only does it lead to many serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths each year, the flu, like COVID-19, has “long” effects that may not always be identified with the disease.

What many people don’t realize is that even after someone recovers from the flu, the inflammatory response generated by the virus continues to wreak havoc for another four to six weeks in those who are middle-aged and older, increasing the rate of heart attacks and strokes, Schaffner said.

For two years, the level of flu in the United States has been exceptionally low. There’s a reason for that: Flu has a basic reproductive rate (R0) below 2. That’s less than even the initially circulating form of COVID-19, much less the supercharged variants we have now, which have Rvalues around 10.

What this means is that the basic steps taken to protect against COVID-19—wearing a mask in public, frequent hand washing, and avoiding large groups—remains highly effective against flu. Anything that works to slow the spread of COVID-19 is going to work against flu even better.

However, people are out there actively trying to get people to skip vaccinations. They’ve even continuing to spread propaganda against mask-wearing. And now they are more than free to do so on Twitter.

You’d like to think that if people were on Twitter encouraging their fellow citizens to fire weapons randomly into crowds (hey, you probably won’t hit anyone, and you need to test that weapon to make sure it still fires!) that Twitter would take steps to stop it. Though … maybe not these days.

The steps that can be taken to prevent the worst flu season in decades are all clear enough:

·       Keep your flu shots and COVID-19 boosters up to date

·       Wear a mask when inside stores or other public places.

·       Wear a mask when riding on buses, trains, or planes.

·       Avoid large groups, especially indoors.

·       Order carryout when possible and avoid eating inside crowded restaurants.

·       Wash your hands frequently, especially after being in public spaces.

It’s doesn’t take a militaristic lockdown to slow the spread of COVID and all but eliminate the flu. It just takes acting with concern for your own family and for others.

It certainly doesn’t help when, from Fox News to Twitter, right wing media sources are pushing anti-science and anti-common sense disinformation that will absolutely lead to more misery and more deaths.