Rochester, NY

Flu virus playbook as template for addressing COVID-19

Flu vaccine plus COVID safety protocols equals less flu

The prevalence of flu in New York state is way down compared to this time last year, according to an analysis of health tracking data by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Contributing factors include a closer match between the genetic make-up of this year’s influenza virus and the vaccine, a majority of the adult population supporting vaccination, and the intense safety protocols being practiced in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

As of January 9, 2021, there were 2,326 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza, 386 patients hospitalized, and no pediatric influenza deaths. At this time last year, the state reported 43,895 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza, 7,633 patients hospitalized, and three pediatric influenza deaths. 

“We have a proven three-pronged approach to challenging the flu virus: We have a flu vaccine that’s safe and effective and widely available, we have buy-in from much of the public to get the flu vaccine, and we have everyone practicing common-sense behaviors that can reduce the spread of a virus,” said Stephen Cohen, M.D., Excellus BlueCross BlueShield chief medical officer. “The success of this approach in reducing the impact of this year’s flu virus is the template for reducing the impact of COVID-19.” 

The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October, peaks between December and February, and can last as late as May.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 192.5 million doses of this year’s flu vaccine have been distributed nationally, to date (as of 1/1/21), compared to 174.2 million doses in total for the 2019-2020 flu season.  

“Each year brings a new formulation for the flu vaccine to reflect the different strains that are expected, so it’s important for everyone to get the flu vaccine each year,” said Cohen. New York state reports influenza A and B are circulating this season. “And as we’ve learned this year, there’s more to practicing personal responsibility than simply coughing into your elbow. We need to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash our hands effectively and often to protect ourselves and others.” Last year, 22,000 Americans died from the flu and flu-related complications and 405,000 were hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

A 2020 survey of 2,000 upstate New York adults commissioned by Excellus BCBS and conducted by One Research found 60 percent of adults believe it is important to get a flu vaccine.

Karen Feigel, (585) 238-4308

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. The company's mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. Its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. With more than 3,500 employees, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. To learn more, visit


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