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Michigan could have a 'twindemic' this year, medical experts say

Having a compromised immune system puts you at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Studies show that the initial vaccine doses are less effective for people with weakened immune systems. A third shot can boost protection.
Christiana Botic
/
Boston Globe via Getty Images
Having a compromised immune system puts you at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Studies show that the initial vaccine doses are less effective for people with weakened immune systems. A third shot can boost protection.

The word “twindemic” has been thrown around the past two winters to highlight the concern of both COVID-19 and flu epidemics breaking out in Michigan communities. Now, with fewer pandemic restrictions, health experts say the possibility of serious outbreaks is higher than before.

Both the new COVID-19 booster shot and flu vaccines are available for the fall season.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said vaccination numbers were below their goal last year. But she says mitigation – for example, people wearing face masks - helped make the past two flu seasons milder than usual. The U.S. is also in a different place in the COVID-19 pandemic than the last two years, she said. There’s more technology, like vaccines, and a better idea of how COVID-19 spreads.

But she said she’s still concerned about how the winter will go.

"A lot of folks have stopped wearing masks, have stopped socially distancing," Bagdasarian said. "With those mitigation strategies fading away, with vaccination rates being somewhat low across the board, that worries me for the coming flu season.

This year, she’s worried people are not taking the winter seriously, she said.

“I think a lot of folks really became more vaccine hesitant, which is concerning," Bagdasarian said. "And I think having conversations, like on the radio, on TV, with your personal physician—those are hopefully some things that can overcome some of this vaccine hesitancy.”

People can get infected with both COVID-19 and the flu, she said. Michigan health officials looked at Australian’s winter for projections on the flu this year, and she said it was unusually bad.

Ben Jodway is an intern, serving as a reporter for WCMU Public Media and the Pioneer in Big Rapids. He has covered Indigenous communities and political extremism in Michigan.