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UnityPoint chief Sader predicts a worse flu season than last year, urges vaccinations

211014 Dr Samer Sader 2.jpg
Joe Deacon
Dr. Samer Sader, Chief Medical Officer for UnityPoint Health's Peoria region, discusses the importance of influenza shots Thursday during the weekly Tri-County COVID-19 health briefing at the Noble Center.

Dr. Samer Sader said Thursday indications from the opposite side of the equator suggest the upcoming influenza season will be worse than last year, when stricter COVID-19 mitigation efforts were in place.

Sader, the Chief Medical Officer for UnityPoint Health’s Peoria region, recommended Tri-County residents get flu shots to reduce the risk of getting ill and minimize the impact on Peoria-area hospitals.

“Influenza vaccination has been a pillar to reduce hospitalization and mortality within our communities for many years now,” Sader said Thursday during the Tri-County health departments’ weekly COVID-19 briefing at the Noble Center.

“Last year, due to all the efforts that people put in towards COVID and the number of people that got vaccinated, we had quite a light season for influenza overall. This season is likely to be higher, based on what's happening in the southern hemisphere.”

Sader said that signs from Australia, Brazil, and other South American countries suggest a return to typical pre-pandemic flu seasons, making it more important for people to get vaccinated.

“Everything you do to reduce your risk of being ill is of great benefit, not only to you but to your own household,” he said. “Anything that is contagious, it’s good to have some protection against. So take advantage of the influenza vaccine.”

Sader said more people getting flu shots will lessen the possibility of exacerbating the current COVID situation.

“If you have somebody vulnerable in your household, think about them and if they got influenza followed by COVID. It's not fun to have two respiratory illnesses back to back,” said Sader, who went on to urge anyone feeling sick to get tested for both diseases.

“Remember, we do have treatments for both influenza and for COVID: you have the monoclonal antibodies for COVID, and you have Tamiflu, which is the trade name for medication that if you get it soon enough, it reduces your symptoms and likelihood of having major complications. The earlier you do get a test, the more options for treatments you have.”

Sader said there’s no increased health risks from getting both flu and COVID shots at the same time or shortly apart.

“If you're uncomfortable, get one (shot) one week and go get the other one the next week. But in reality, our immune system is built to handle many challenges at once,” he said.

Majority of COVID caseload is under 40

Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson said nearly two-thirds of the county’s active COVID-19 cases are under 40, with the 0-9, 10-19, 20-29, and 30-39 age groups each accounting for 16%. Peoria County accounts for 269 of the Tri-County’s active caseload of 649.

“The seven-day average now for the Tri-County sits at 64 new cases each day within the three counties, which is a decrease from 76 from the previous week,” said Hendrickson. “Peoria alone is now up to 33 new cases per day, which is slightly above last week when we were at 30 cases per day.”

Peoria and Tazewell counties each logged three new fatalities linked to COVID-19 over the past week, bringing the region’s death toll since the start of the pandemic to 823. The total case count across the area since March 2020 is up to 53,061.

The active caseload includes 23 patients with COVID-19 at Peoria-area hospitals and 626 residents isolating at home, representing decreases of seven hospitalizations and 89 residential quarantines since last Thursday.

Hendrickson said citizens should continue to observe Gov. JB Pritzker’s order to wear masks in indoor public settings to reduce spreading the virus and urged people not to become unruly about the requirement.

“Don't make it a safety issue for the staff. If you are at a grocery store, or if you are at a box store or a small retail or restaurant, and they ask us to comply, comply,” said Hendrickson. “These individuals are asking to enforce a policy to keep themselves and the other patrons safe. If you really are that offended by being asked that, then leave the store. But don't become confrontational and don't make that into an unsafe situation.”

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