Getting a flu vaccine has never been more necessary than it is this year. COVID-19 cases are rising at alarming rates throughout the country and here, in the metropolitan area, “hot spot” clusters have popped up. As we move into the colder months, there is a good chance that more clusters of COVID-19 cases will emerge – the second wave that health professionals have warned us about. That happening alongside flu cases is a problem. We are facing a possible “twindemic,” and flu vaccination remains the first defense against this harrowing possibility.
By now you have heard the many pleas from public health professionals and medical experts to get a flu shot sooner rather than later. Let me add my organization’s voice to that plea. The Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State (SHANYS) has teamed up with the New York State Association of County Health Officials (NYSACHO) and launched a campaign to raise awareness about the “twindemic” possibility and the importance of getting a flu vaccine now. The campaign’s messages are reaching residents in Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan, Dutchess, Ulster, Suffolk, and Nassau counties.
During the 2018 – 2019 flu season, vaccination prevented 105,000 hospitalizations and 6,300 flu-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s important to remember that the flu can cause serious complications and be deadly. Those who are immune-compromised are much more vulnerable to poor outcomes from the flu, as are individuals with chronic diseases.
Slow the Surge
Imagine now what would happen at hospitals this season if there is not widespread flu vaccination. We saw how stressed our hospitals were this past spring when COVID-19 hit its peak. We want to avoid a similar situation, which could be compounded by the flu virus, as we move into the colder months. No one has suffered from the flu and COVID simultaneously and, from a clinical perspective, we are not sure how the two diseases would manifest themselves in a patient. If we can remove flu from the equation, all the better.
So far, the flu season in the southern hemisphere, which runs from April to September and is considered a predictor of our upcoming flu season, has been mild. But there are no guarantees and why take a chance with the coronavirus still highly prevalent.
My colleague at NYSACHO says everyone should talk with their health care provider now and put together a plan that gives them the best chance to stay healthy through the fall and winter. There are options. The flu vaccine is available via injection and nasal spray.
Even so, there are individuals who question the effectiveness of the flu vaccine and still others who believe they will contract the flu from the vaccine. The CDC is clear on both of these issues. The influenza virus continually changes, but some measure of protection always accrues because the vaccine addresses the different strains circulating during any given flu season. Some seasons the vaccine is more effective than others. But some protection is better than no protection and severity of the virus is diminished even if you catch it. According to the CDC, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine. As far as catching the flu from the vaccine, the CDC says that is a flat out “no.” This is because vaccines are made with either an inactivated virus or a single protein from the virus, meaning there are parts missing.
Hospitals and county health departments are more challenged this season in holding flu shot clinics because of COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Still, there are facilities holding drive-through vaccination sites and others that schedule vaccination via appointment. Contact your local hospital, county health department, or health provider to see what is available and check our flu vaccine campaign site often. We update it with the latest information about vaccination and flu prevention tips.
About the Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State
The Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State advocates on behalf of hospitals in the Hudson Valley and Long Island regions. It engages key lawmakers and regulatory decision-makers in Albany and Washington to ensure reasonable and rational health care policy prevails.
About the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council (NSHC)
The Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council represents the not-for-profit and public hospitals on Long Island. It works in conjunction with the Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State to advance legislative and regulatory priorities. NSHC serves as the local and collective voice of hospitals on Long Island.
About the Northern Metropolitan Hospital Association (NorMet)
The Northern Metropolitan Hospital Association represents the not-for-profit and public hospitals in the Hudson Valley region. It works in conjunction with the Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State to advance legislative and regulatory priorities. NorMet serves as the local and collective voice of hospitals in the Hudson Valley.