A: No. For young babies and anyone over age 18, COVID-19 illness continues to hospitalize people at higher rates than the Flu.
Even though COVID-19 has caused over 1 million deaths in the US (almost 7 million globally) and 6 million hospitalizations over the past 3 years, we are in a much better place. U.S. excess deaths seem to be approaching pre-pandemic levels and hospitalizations are currently only about 10% of what they were in December 2022, the most recent peak. But COVID is not yet “the Flu.”
First of all, the Flu is no joke. Conservative estimates put annual U.S. Flu deaths in the thousands, hospitalizations in the tens of thousands, and cases in the millions (get your Flu shot!) Although older individuals are more vulnerable to severe complications, roughly 100 children die from the flu every year. Speaking as a clinician, seeing a young child with flu walk into the hospital and never walk out is something that gets permanently burned into your brain.
The 2022-23 season is the first time we saw COVID hospitalizations follow a seasonal respiratory virus pattern. They had a clear single rise and fall, although they did not drop as quickly and sharply as RSV or flu.
This trend is encouraging for a lot of reasons. There were fewer hospitalizations and deaths this past season than in the 2 years prior. If there are no dramatic shifts in COVID variants, we might be able to plan and prepare a little better this winter (think healthcare staffing, supply chain, public health messaging, etc).
But digging down into the data reveals an important caveat to this good news. Last season the difference in flu and COVID hospitalization for children aged 1-17 was minimal. BUT– infants and adults 18 and above had at least twice the rate of hospitalization from COVID-19 than from flu. And for those little ones under 6 months old or over age 65, there was a 3 times increased risk of hospitalization.
Bottom line ⬇️
COVID-19 is not yet the Flu.
Even if one day these illnesses affect people equally, they will still cause significant amounts of death and disability in our population–more so because the burden of COVID disease is in addition to what we already experience from other respiratory viruses. The best thing to do to protect you and your loved ones is to get all the vaccines for which you are eligible!
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls