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Health Officials Urge Vaccinations for Flu and COVID-19 Ahead of Holiday Gatherings

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Health officials urge vaccinations for flu and COVID-19 ahead of holiday gatherings

by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy, Arizona Mirror
December 2, 2022

As the holidays loom, three respiratory illnesses are hitting the state and public health officials say now is the very best time for Arizonans to get vaccinated in order to be best protected come time for family gatherings. 

“There is no time better than now to get vaccinated,” Eugene Livar, Director of Public Health Preparedness for the Arizona Department of Health Services told the Arizona Mirror, noting that antibodies for both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines take about two weeks to build up in your system. 

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Currently, Arizona and the rest of the nation is experiencing upticks in influenza, COVID-19 and RSV. This flu season in Arizona is much worse than the past two flu seasons, and nationally there have been more flu hospitalizations this past week than any other flu season since 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In the past week in Arizona, there have been 3,355 laboratory confirmed cases of the flu, a 2,500% increase from the same time period when there were only 125. It is also a 1,300% increase over a typical flu season, according to state data. 

Last week’s cases were a 54% increase from the previous week. 

RSV, an upper respiratory virus that can sometimes be confused with the common cold, is also on the rise from previous seasons. In the past week, there have been 1,517 confirmed cases compared to 205 the previous season. 

According to the CDC, Arizona has high flu and RSV activity, slightly less than the “very high” designation. During the week ending Nov. 19, one in every 10 deaths nationally could be attributed to either pneumonia, the flu or COVID-19

But Livar says there are steps people can take to help combat this ahead of the holiday season to protect themselves and their loved ones. 

For starters, getting vaccinated is key, he said. 

“Getting vaccinated can reduce the severity of illness and can help keep you out of the hospital,” Livar said.“When you get vaccinated you can not only protect yourself but others.”

Arizona hospitals are still strained financially due in large to workforce shortages, inflation and supply chain shortages. Getting vaccinated for both the flu and COVID can greatly reduce the severity of both illnesses if you were to come down with them and reduce strain on health care providers, still impacted by the pandemic and other issues. Approximately 70% of Arizona’s emergency department beds are currently in use as well. 

Livar also said that it is good to “take advantage of some simple steps,” like ensuring proper hand washing, covering coughs, sneezes and ensuring you do stay home at the first sign of any symptoms of illness and staying home until you are fully recovered. 

Currently, six of Arizona’s counties have “high” COVID-19 ratings from the CDC, which recommends that a mask be worn in indoor places in those counties. Those counties are: Apache, Gila, Greenlee, Navajo, Pima and Santa Cruz. The remaining counties are at “medium” risk. 

The omicron BA.5 variant is still the dominant subvariant in Arizona; receiving a bivalent booster vaccine offers additional resistance to all of the omicron strains. The BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 subvariant which has been becoming dominant across the country has seen a small increase in the past two months. 

Phoenix-based TGen, which sequences the genetic makeup of COVID test results given to them by the state, found that 3.2% of all COVID tests in October came back with BQ.1 and 4.5% came back with BQ.1.1. In November, the number of tests that came back as BQ.1 rose to 5.1% and BQ.1.1 rose to 8.7%. 

In the past week, Arizona reported more than 13,400 new cases of COVID-19.

The advent of home testing could have a statistical impact in the data, however, as some researchers have estimated that case rates are being massively underreported due to this. 

So, when you get together with your family, make sure you’ve been vaccinated or boosted and if you’re sick, stay home, Livar said. If you’re planning a large family get together, think about maybe opening a few windows to circulate some fresh air or even plan for a get together outside if it is nice out, he added. 

Livar said just to think about what might be best for the particular people in your life and how to best protect them. Also, if you think you might be sick, get tested right away. 

Anyone looking for more information on testing can find it at azhealth.gov/Testing

Anyone looking for more information on where to get a vaccine can find it at azhealth.gov/findvaccine

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Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.