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Doctors urge flu shots, COVID-19 boosters ahead of holidays to reduce potential surge

A deadly flu season in Australia has doctors concerned about a possible "twindemic" with influenza and COVID-19 in the U.S. this winter.

INDIANAPOLIS — With COVID-19 surging across Europe and a deadly flu season in Australia, doctors in Indiana are warning we could be dealing with a 'twindemic' this winter. But doctors say the best action you can take to keep you and your family safe is to get your booster and flu shot quickly.

"You want to get them now, because you want to have your immunity by the time all these reach their peak," said Dr. John Christenson, associate medical director of infection prevention at Riley Hospital for Children. 

As the weather moves full swing into fall, doctors are urging Hoosiers to get their immune systems ready for winter with the latest COVID-19 booster and flu shot. 

A recent study found that if more people nationwide get their booster by the end of the year, around 90,000 deaths from COVID-19 could be prevented this winter. But if boosters stay at their current slow pace, the U.S. could see more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths a day over the winter. 

Christenson said Hoosiers are already behind.

"If you really look at vaccination rates, especially in Indiana, they're appallingly terrible. OK? They're terrible. When you look at pediatric dosing in vaccinations, they're terrible. And people say, 'Well COVID is no big deal, it's a mild disease.' Well, you need to factor in more than a million people have died of COVID in the United States," he said. "In Indiana, we’re talking about more than 20,000 people have died from COVID. If you look at children’s hospitals, including ours, we’ve had children that have died from COVID. So we’re not talking about a benign infection."

According to data from the Indiana Department of Health, 55% of the state's population has completed their initial COVID-19 vaccination series. It's one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the country. 

RELATED: Indiana health officials announce 1st flu death of season

When it comes to the new booster, the IDOH reports nearly 300,000 Hoosiers have already gotten their next dose. But that's only about four percent of the state population. 

As Australia reckons with one of its worst flu seasons in years, Christenson said that's a sign of concern for our upcoming flu season here. In a typical year, influenza kills between 30,000 and 50,000 Americans, according to data from the CDC.

"If the numbers really are similar here than what the Australians have seen, it's going to be a busy flu season. And it's going to be a busy flu season on top of whatever COVID activity there and is along with the RSV we're currently seeing and other respiratory viruses," Christenson said. “The hospital at Riley is very busy right now, there’s a lot of patients here. But imagine, in a few months, it may be significantly worse and we all fear that. That’s why we’re so emphasizing that people get vaccinated, because we don’t want to see you coming to our emergency rooms or even being hospitalized."

RELATED: US clears new COVID booster for kids 5 and older, but many haven't gotten initial shots

The potential for a twindemic to hit the U.S. from a severe COVID-19 surge and a deadly flu season has been something doctors have cautioned about for the past two years, but with lower influenza numbers due to masking and COVID-19 safety measures, many in the U.S., has kept that twindemic potential at bay. 

Now, with Europe seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases from omicron subvariants and Australia's flu season a likely indicator for the United States' flu season, Christenson said a twindemic is more likely to hit this winter. 

But Christenson said to help reduce its impact on Hoosier families, we already have everything we need to protect people through vaccinations. 

"We're being handed tools here to keep our family healthy. So let's take advantage of it," he said.

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