49: Preparing for Flu Season

Dr. Denise Johnson, Acting Physician General at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, discusses the upcoming flu season; Avia Mason, ASTHO Vice President of Learning Strategy, outlines ASTHO’s annual fall board meeting agenda and a new "Insight and...

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Dr. Denise Johnson, Acting Physician General at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, discusses the upcoming flu season; Avia Mason, ASTHO Vice President of Learning Strategy, outlines ASTHO’s annual fall board meeting agenda and a new "Insight and Inspiration" conversation planned this week; and ASTHO offers blog articles about a push to maintain funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food program and building capacity to address substance use disorders.

CDC Webpage: Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices

ASTHO Event: Insight and Inspiration Conversation with Sebastian Junger

ASTHO Blog Article: What December Means for a Beloved Nutrition Program

ASTHO Blog Article: Building Capacity and Dedicating Field Staff to Address Substance use Disorders During COVID-19

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, October 19th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

Here's today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


It's been two years since the last real flu season in the U.S. There were only a handful of cases last year thanks to protections people took to avoid catching the COVID-19 virus. But now, with most returning to their routines and mingling with others, there's worry that a year without the flu could mean a bad spate of infections this time.

Dr. Denise Johnson is the Acting Physician General at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. We asked her about the looming flu season. It's today's morning conversation.

The CDC is worried that the flu could be worse this year because it's been two years since we've had to deal with it. Do you think we're prepared for that kind of flu season this time?


Well, we have certainly been preparing for a flu season since, and we're never sure what we're going to have, so our department has already been working on that.

We have epidemiologists who are prepared to track the data that we get coming in in terms of what is happening with the flu season, and then ready to react as well.


There's been some discussion about a possible "twin-demic"—COVID and flu coming together here in the colder months.

How worried are you about that possibility?


Well, certainly there's a concern.

Because last year, as you said, we had very light flu season and people were taking the mitigation efforts to prevent COVID; so, we were avoiding crowds, washing our hands, staying masked—that really contributed to less virus circulating.

This year, we still have COVID circulating, and we know that we're not taking the same sort of measures that we had last year; so, certainly concerned that there would be flu and COVID still circulating this year.


Vaccines have been the lead story for more than a year—that's really all we hear about.

Does that help or hurt the drive to vaccinate people against the flu?


Well, it's difficult to be sure.

But we have been messaging to make sure that people realize that the cold and COVID and the flu are all circulating, and those are different viruses; and so, it is possible to have the flu, or to have COVID, or maybe even to have both.

We have vaccines now that can prevent severe illness and hospitalization and death from both flu and COVID, but they are different vaccines. And so, we are making sure that people know that you need to have both of those vaccines, and you can get them both at the same time.



CDC panel gets set to consider Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots.

The posted agenda for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices says COVID boosters will be discussed on Thursday. If the committee recommends third doses, they could be available to eligible groups within days.


ASTHO members have a meeting of their own this week. The organization's annual fall gathering kicks off today with the Assembly of Members.

Avia Mason is ASTHO's vice-president of learning strategy.


So, we have the opportunity to gather members to address the ongoing threats, the resignations, and the numerous public health laws that have been enacted across the nation in the last few months. And it's ever important for our members to maintain connection and peer support as they're going through these experiences.



The ASTHO board meets tomorrow.

Included on the agenda: a new Insight and Inspiration Conversation with author and journalist Sebastian Junger. It starts at 1:30 PM Eastern time and is open to the public.

There's more information and a link to register in the show notes.


Also this morning, ASTHO writes in a new blog article about plans to partner with the National WIC Association and others to encourage continued federal funding of the Women, Infants, and Children food program.

A higher benefit for people in the WIC program expires in December. The goal is to convince Congress to include an extension of that WIC benefit in the final FY 22 appropriations package. Without approval, the weekly benefit would drop to $9 a month for children and $11 a month for women.


Finally this morning, ASTHO has another blog article, this one about building capacity to address substance use disorders during COVID-19.

Readers can learn more about the OMNI learning community and programs ASTHO members have used to improve the quality of care in their jurisdictions.


Find a link to both blog articles, along with a link to sign up for the Insight and Inspiration talk, in the show notes.


Also, remember to follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or listen on Alexa or Google assistant.

And, if you have a minute, please take time to leave us a rating and a review.


Join us tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.

Denise A Johnson MD FACOG FACHE

Physician General, Pennsylvania Department of Health

Avia Mason

Vice President of Learning Strategy, ASTHO