CHICAGO — A group of doctors and health department officials fear a severe influenza season will strike the U.S. in the coming months, and are urging families to get the vaccine.

In a press release, the group stated the Southern Hemisphere showed a very severe flu season on top of already crowded pediatric hospitals due to a very early and intense RSV surge, and severe staffing shortages. What happens during their winter is often a precursor of what happens during the season in the Northern Hemisphere.

“We haven’t had an influenza season since early 2020. Influenza essentially went away for the last two and a half years,” said Dr. Larry Kociolek, Medical Director of Infection, Prevention and Control and Infectious Diseases at Lurie Children’s Hospital in the press release. “So we have a huge population of infants, essentially almost every child in the U.S. who is under 2 and a half to 3 years old, who has not encountered influenza, and the vaccine rate is not particularly good.”

Representatives from several Chicago area hospitals including Rush University Medical, University of Illinois Health, and Loyola University Medical, along with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health, held a press conference to discuss the impending flu season and the danger to young children.

A surge in pediatric cases of RSV and increasing cases of the flu are causing bed shortages across the state as healthcare systems are understaffed. Now, workers are stretched thin as more patients come in.

“As someone who is directly taking care of children affected by this current respiratory surge, we encourage everyone to be vaccinated who is able,” Dr. Dreanna Behrens with the Illinois Chapter of Academy of Pediatrics said.

Ald. Brian Hopkins said the system is under a tremendous amount of stress and need help.

“By comparison, even during the worst moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw nothing like this. In fact, we never dropped lower than 50% in our PICU capacity,” Dr. Sameer Vohra, director of Illinois Department of Public Health, said.

Flu season hasn’t peaked yet and health officials expect the number of children needing care for these viruses to increase significantly over the next several weeks.

During the press conference, they provided guidance on what level of illness determines what level of care should be sought by a family.

You can watch that press conference in its entirety in the video above.