BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The flu season is fast approaching, ringing alarms for health officials who are already battling a COVID-19 pandemic.
Studies have shown that a person can have both the flu virus and COVID-19 simultaneously, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the health implications of having both viruses isn't clear, the CDC is urging the public to get early flu vaccinations so their immune system doesn't have to fight off both viruses at the same time.
Meantime, Ken Keller, the CEO of Memorial Hospital in Bakersfield says their is another important reason to get early flu vaccinations, especially as hospitals across the state are working hard to preserve Intensive Care Unit beds.
Flu season runs between October and April, and that's "a busier time for us in the hospital because with flu comes pneumonia, comes some very sick people that end up being hospitalized more frequently," Keller said.
As COVID-19 is expected to stick around in 2021, Keller says "the question that everyone is preparing for is 'with the synthesis of COVID plus flu season, are we going to see a markedly significantly busier fall and winter?"
It's a question that has prompted hospitals across Kern County to examine the additional resources they'll need if there is an influx of flu patients. For now, Keller says two-thirds of his ICU beds are occupied. Nine beds currently with COVID patients. He says this is a decline from the weeks prior.
But the recent trend isn't something Keller wants to count on, he says what would really help, is if the public gets their flu vaccinations early.
Medical centers across Kern County are going to play a huge role in lifting the burden from hospitals during the flu season, according to Tim Calahan, the spokesman for Clinica Siera Vista.
With 13 clinics in Kern County, Calahan says their goal is to vaccinate and test thousands, as several uninsured and immigrant residents don't have primary doctors, relying on hospitals for medical care instead.
"We are the ones that can intervene before it's too late and with flu season we can intervene with vaccinations and contact with your primary care doctor i.e. flu testing," Calahan said. "If you come in thinking you have COVID, before you go to the hospital and overwhelm a system that is already strained."
According to the CDC, manufacturers are expected to produce upwards of 190 million vaccinations -- a record figure.