Minnesota hospitals brace for flu season during COVID-19 pandemic

Flu season is just beginning, and with more vaccine hesitancy than possibly ever before, doctors are worried that fewer people will get the flu shot.

It’s usually by November or December that we’ll start to see flu cases pick up. And after a practically non-existent influenza season last year, health officials worry that this year it will be back with a vengeance.

"If our safety behaviors decrease, our influenza cases will go up," Dr. George Morris said.

With many people ditching their masks and no longer social distancing, the virus has more opportunity to spread, and some doctors worry that the growing political divide over the COVID-19 vaccine could roll over into the flu shot as well.

"Influenza vaccine was commonly accepted. It wasn’t perfect and not 100 percent of people got it, but it was common," Morris said. "Now what we’re seeing is more of that reluctance."

Dr. George Morris is with CentraCare, a health system that serves Greater Minnesota. Their clinics located in areas that tend to have lower COVID-19 vaccination rates. 

He says an active flu season could put unwelcomed stress on already busy hospitals. 

"What this does to the person is one thing; What this does to the community and our hospital capacity, that’s where it becomes more than the one person because those things put constraints on our entire system and community," Morris said.

The Minnesota Department of Health has just started tracking this flu season, with only one recorded hospitalization last week.

But Morris says it’s still extremely early, and other respiratory viruses like RSV have already come on strong, possibly previewing a busy flu season and prompting health officials to further push vaccination.

The Mayo Clinic says it is perfectly safe to get the COVID-19 and the flu shot at the same time. Clinics are more than happy to knock both out in one visit.