Flu season is well underway, now classified as an epidemic and compounded by a surge in cases of the contagious respiratory syncytial virus or RSV and new treatment- and immunity-resistant subvariants of the coronavirus. All three respiratory illnesses are straining hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area and other regions and particularly affecting young children.
While a vaccine for RSV does not exist, health experts nationwide and in California are urging people to get the COVID-19 bivalent booster and a flu shot to protect themselves as well as people who are more vulnerable — decreasing greatly the severity of illness and chances of hospitalization and death.
Vaccination is especially critical for dentists, dental staff and other health care workers, who will not always know when they are exposed to the flu or COVID-19 and will not be able to report to work to provide patient care if they have a close contact or develop symptoms. After developing flu symptoms, most infected individuals are contagious for five to seven days, but children and individuals with weakened immune systems can spread infection for a longer period.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people get vaccinated against the flu in September or October, but stresses that “vaccination after October can still provide protection during the peak of flu season.”
The California Department of Public Health recommends all Californians ages 6 months and older “get vaccinated against the flu now, even if they have already gotten a COVID-19 vaccine” and notes that older adults and those with certain health conditions are at high risk of serious flu complications.
The CDC’s 2022-23 flu FAQ explains that people can get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster and the flu vaccine at the same time. And as of October 2022, the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 bivalent booster is available to all Californians ages 6 or 5 and older, respectively.
Everybody, regardless of COVID-19 or flu vaccination status, must continue to wear face masks in health care settings in compliance with the state mandate.
Some local health departments mandate flu vaccination for health care workers
Dentists and dental staff in some practices in California may not have a choice about whether to get the flu vaccine as some counties and cities mandate it annually for all health care workers, and several that didn’t mandate flu vaccination last year have issued vaccine orders for the current year.
Other local health departments enforce COVID-19 vaccination orders for health care workers or other specific settings.
Dentist employers should read CDA’s updated resource listing local public health department orders that mandate flu or COVID-19 vaccination and impact dental offices, which as of Nov. 14 include Alameda, Berkeley, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sonoma and Yolo.
A summary of each order and links to the orders are included; however, employers are advised to watch for updates in their respective county since local health officials may issue or update an order at any time.
In the office: Flu and COVID-19 safety poster, screening, staff education
Practice owners should educate staff and patients on the importance of taking necessary precautions to protect against respiratory viruses by following best safety practices. Employers can also encourage their employees to get vaccinated (if their county does not already mandate vaccination).
The following CDA and other resources can help: