AVAC Spotlight: Laura Lee Hall, PhD, Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity (SHC)

Public health officials are warning of a dangerous flu season, that could be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Community transmission of COVID-19 will likely continue through next flu season, creating the risk of overcrowding in hospitals, co-infections which could lead to worse health outcomes, and misdiagnoses that lead to incorrect treatments.

As America attempts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing and the development of a future vaccine, it is especially important to encourage flu vaccinations, particularly among older adults and those with preexisting who are most at risk of developing severe cases of both flu and coronavirus. Increasing flu vaccination rates will help to reduce overcrowding in hospitals and the risk of co-infections. In addition to encouraging flu vaccines, it is also important to increase the availability of rapid diagnostic tests so that providers can differentiate between flu and COVID-19, particularly because many of the symptoms associated with flu and COVID-19 are similar, and ensure that patients receive the correct treatment.

Unfortunately, there are deep disparities for both flu and COVID-19. We have seen how communities of color are disproportionately suffering from coronavirus, both in terms of number of cases and deaths. Historically, communities of color also have lower rates of flu vaccinations, increasing their risk of contracting flu. Dr. Laura Lee Hall, President of the Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity (SHC) at the National Minority Quality Forum, spoke at AVAC’s June briefing about the importance of targeting resources to communities of color in order to increase flu immunization rates. She warned that health care systems in communities of color could become overwhelmed if faced with high numbers of coronavirus cases and high numbers of flu cases. This could lead to a more deadly flu season and a resurgence of severe coronavirus cases.

She emphasized the importance of community engagement and provider training in communities of color that have the highest need. Community engagement and provider training will ensure that more people are aware of the importance of receiving a flu vaccine and that they know where to go to get vaccinated.

Americans are still anxiously awaiting the developing of a COVID-19 vaccine, but fortunately a flu vaccine already exists. Increasing flu immunization rates, particularly amongst those with the highest risks of flu and COVID-19 such as communities of color and the elderly, is critical to protecting Americans from flu and from COVID-19.