As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the U.S. is facing another public health threat: flu season.
“We need to take flu off the table, particularly this fall and winter, so the health care system is not trying to deal with both COVID as well as the flu,” Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Yahoo Finance (video above).
‘For the flu, of course, we have a vaccine’
At least 210,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, which is significantly more than the roughly 50,000 who die from the flu each year. Nevertheless, on Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about that “we have learned to live with” flu season — generally considered to be between October and February — and should do the same with coronavirus.
Comparing the flu to the coronavirus “apples and oranges” Parekh explained.
“For the flu, of course, we have a vaccine,” said Parekh, who served as former deputy assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama. “We have a variety of treatments for COVID-19. We still await a vaccine and we still await more treatments.”
While social distancing guidelines are important for preventing the spread of coronavirus, there is a vaccine available for the flu, which Parekh stressed that all Americans should be getting this year.
Americans getting a flu shot is “more important this year than ever,” Edward Belongia, MD, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin, told Consumer Reports.
‘Not something to be cavalier about’
Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus last week, was hospitalized for a couple of days after experiencing a fever and other symptoms.
Public health officials expressed concerns that his early discharge from Walter Reed Hospital on Monday afternoon could put others at risk while the president is still infectious.
“We were all hoping that he would pull through and he is, and it’s great to see that he’s seemingly feeling better,” Parekh said. “But I think we were also hoping that he would be much more humbled and sobered after his experience in the hospital, after 210,000 Americans have died, that he would send the important message that this is not something to be cavalier about.”
Parekh added that Americans “need to wear masks in public. We need to be physically distant. We need to do all the things that he hasn’t been doing. And so, I think it’s concerning to read some of the tweets that are coming out.”
Trump’s tweet that downplayed the risk of coronavirus and said the flu was deadlier — an argument he made as far back as early March — sparked outrage on social media and led to action from top platforms.
Facebook (FB) removed the post, while Twitter (TWTR) added a label that said the tweet violated platform rules by “spreading misleading and potentially harmful information” about the coronavirus but kept it up in the public’s interest. The tweet can only be “quote tweeted” and not liked, retweeted, or responded to.
“He shouldn’t be making any scientific statements,” Parekh said. “The experts have been clear throughout this public health crisis. Sometimes he uses language and he’s not quite sure what he’s saying… For his health, for the health of people around him, he needs to focus on recuperating and making sure that this outbreak, which was preventable, doesn’t continue to spread across the White House.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.