A Healthier Tomorrow – COVID-19 and Why the Flu Vaccine is Especially Important in 2020
Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow
By Alison Page, CEO Western Wisconsin Health
There are basically two ways to control of a pandemic: First, is to contain it before is spreads. We were able to do this with Ebola in the United States in 2014. We have not been able to do this with COVID-19. Why? Because the SARS-CoV-2 virus is new, a novel coronavirus, thus little was initially known about the mode of transmission. The discovery that this new virus is transmitted mainly through respiratory particles and that people are contagious before they have symptoms has rendered some containment strategies, like the travel restrictions put in place in late January, only marginally effective, or useless.
The second way to contain a pandemic is to achieve herd immunity. This can be done in two ways; you can let the virus spread naturally until a lot of people (i.e. 70% – 90% of the population) get it, and/or you can vaccinate people to, hopefully, achieve immunity. Note: Hopes are high for an effective vaccine, but we do not have one yet and it is not likely we will have access to wide-spread vaccination before 2021. If you want to get the facts on vaccine progress, go to the New York Times website and search for “Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker.” Also, scientists do not yet know whether long-term immunity to this virus can be achieved. Some people are getting sick a second time. Additionally, scientists do not know the long-term health effects of the virus. The Mayo Clinic is reporting that the virus may damage a person’s lungs, heart or brain, causing long-term health issues.
Now, on to influenza! Fall is the beginning of cold and flu season, and getting your annual flu shot in 2020 is more important than previous years. Co-infection with influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is possible and has already occurred in some people. So far, there is not enough information to know how the flu and COVID-19 will interact. Prevention is the best strategy to avoid serious health problems.
The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot, and those age 65 and older should get a high-dose form of the flu vaccine. For optimal protection, the CDC recommends getting a flu shot in September or October to cover the seasonal flu season, which typically runs through March and possibly into April.
Here are five reasons why the flu vaccine is especially important this season:
- The flu continues to be a serious illness. Historically, many people have discounted the seriousness of influenza complications, but the reality is, seasonal flu continues to be a serious, and sometimes deadly, illness. For the 2018-2019 flu season, an estimated 35.5 million people got the flu, with more than 490,000 undergoing hospitalizations for the illness—and more than 34,000 died from seasonal flu. It is possible that the preventive measures implemented to reduce coronavirus spread will also reduce flu spread.
- Having the flu vaccine can reduce flu severity if you still get sick. Because the seasonal flu vaccine is not 100% effective, there will be some vaccinated people who still get sick. However, those who do get the flu vaccine generally experience less severe flu symptoms than unvaccinated flu patients. In fact, according to a 2017 CDC study, flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among flu patients. A separate 2017 study showed flu vaccination significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from flu.
- Having the flu vaccine could limit future trips to the doctor. During the 2016-2017 season, vaccination for the flu prevented an estimated 2.6 million medical visits. Getting vaccinated will reduce the pressure on health care organizations.
- Getting the flu vaccine protects those who cannot get immunized. Not everyone can get a seasonal flu vaccine due to certain chronic health conditions, allergies to the vaccine ingredients, and other conditions. In addition, babies younger than 6 months old are unable to get a flu vaccine, so they are left unprotected. When those who can get a flu vaccine get immunized, they can help reduce the spread of flu, increasing community immunity and protecting those who cannot receive the vaccination.
- Getting the flu vaccine could help conserve hospital resources. The quick onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic and the major disruption of supply chains led to a major shortage of supplies for health care facilities. Those shortages have yet to be fully restored, and a large number of severe influenza cases could further strain those resources.
We anticipate having ample flu vaccine this season, so do not wait. Get your flu vaccination starting in mid-September or October. Please feel free to call Western Wisconsin Health at 715-684-1111 and ask for assistance with the flu vaccine if you have any questions. You can make an appointment for a nurse visit, or walk in. There may be a short wait with walk-ins.