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Health Officials Pleading For More Pennsylvanians To Get Flu Shots As Hospitals Nearing Capacity Due To COVID-19

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Public health officials are launching a full-court press to urge people to get the flu shot as well as the COVID-19 vaccine, and there are particular concerns for the elderly and children.

Pennsylvania health officials are sounding the alarm, saying fewer people are getting flu shots this year, and hospitals are seeing twice as many emergency room visits for the flu than there were two years ago.

"The flu seasons can be quite variable, but again, remember last year, we were wearing masks and we were staying away from crowds," Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said, "and we're not really doing that this year."

City and state officials say hospitals are already near capacity, so even a small rise in flu cases resulting in hospitalizations could overwhelm an already taxed health care system. Anyone 6 months and older is being strongly advised to get a flu shot. Those who are more vulnerable should take heed.

"Adults aged 65 and older, residents of nursing homes or other long-term facilities, children under the age of 2, pregnant people, and people with preexisting conditions, including asthma, heart disease and diabetes," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said.

There is also a special concern for children.

Local health officials say Black and Brown children are disproportionately affected by the flu.

"More hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, with deaths up to four times more likely in our babies less than 4 years old," Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens said.

Common sense precautions such as washing your hands, sanitizing and wearing a mask can also help protect adults and children from the flu.

"Now with many children are returning to school, sports and other extracurricular activities, kids are more likely to be exposed to the flu and that can result in much higher infections," said Dr. Ron Keren, another doctor at CHOP.

If you do get the flu but it's not an urgent matter, health officials are urging you to see your primary care physician or visit an urgent care facility instead of going to the emergency room.

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