Reduced availability of medical visits and concerns about contracting COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic contributed to large drops in medical visits, including for preventive care. But now is the time to makes sure you are up-to-date on prevention. Even though I have no family history, really don’t enjoy a colonoscopy and wanted to use COVID-19 as an excuse to cancel, I got my colonoscopy earlier this month. I had a precancerous polyp detected, and its removal probably prevented cancer for me down the road.
I also have an appointment to get my flu vaccine in October. Although no one in my family has died of influenza that I know of, I don’t want to find out. And, I will not take a chance of passing influenza to my octogenarian parents or anyone else.
Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older, but flu vaccine is particularly important this year for several reasons. First, we want to prevent as many illnesses as possible. Any illness with cough or fever, common symptoms of both influenza and COVID-19, will raise alarms and trigger testing for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID) and influenza (flu).
Second, influenza-related illnesses will further strain our medical testing and hospital resources.
Third, risk groups for severe influenza and COVID overlap a lot; older adults and people with chronic medical conditions are at high risk of both flu and COVID-19. Children younger than 5 years and pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness from influenza.
Fourth, the co-circulation of flu and SARS-CoV-2 viruses increases the risk of people getting even sicker if they contract both viruses at the same time. Such cases occurred in the COVID-19 spring wave.
Lastly and most importantly, flu vaccines work to reduce illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.
While we wait for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, we have FDA-approved influenza vaccines now. Doctors’ offices and pharmacies have already implemented procedures to keep patients and their staff safe when providing care, including vaccines.
Although we can never predict the severity of any influenza season, the 2020-21 season offers additional challenges due to COVID-19. Some people think that because of social distancing, influenza circulation will not occur. I would remind those people that we have plenty of COVID-19 spreading right now and influenza spreads similarly to COVID. Predicting the spread of viruses, as we have all experienced, can be very humbling.
There are many options for getting your flu vaccine. Call your medical and pharmacy provider or local health department for starters. Another option this year is to get your flu vaccine at a drive-through flu vaccination clinic on the Idaho State University Meridian Campus on October 3 from 10:00am – 5:00pm. This drive-through clinic is co-sponsored by The Idaho Immunization Coalition, Idaho State University, Meridian, Albertsons, St. Alphonsus Health System, and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Immunization Program. The drive-through clinic is for people 6 months and older.
I hope to see you there.
Carolyn B. Bridges, MD, FACP, former associate director of Influenza and associate director of adult immunizations, CDC, on behalf of the Idaho Immunization Coalition and Get Immunized Idaho.
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