With summer coming to a close, we are heading into the cold and flu season. The coronavirus (COVID-19) is still taking its toll on the entire world, but no where as bad as this country. With cases continuing to flare in multiple states, we are still averaging the devastating loss of one soul a minute. Flu season takes a toll on the American population every year, with tens of thousands of people dying from flu-related causes each year. Hospitals and providers are already strained, caring for those with COVID-19- medical experts are sounding the alarm. The suggestion is that people seek out the flu vaccine now. As the flu vaccine takes roughly two weeks before it is effective, along with flu seasons starting as early as October, waiting much longer could mean you are up against a wait time and potentially a shortage, as more people receive the shot.
“It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19, and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve health care resources,” said Dr. Lawrence Madoff, medical director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. That’s why it’s imperative we do everything possible to stay healthy and decrease the impact on our healthcare facilities. Getting vaccinated is a great start.
Some people question the necessity of vaccines. We encourage you to read more about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines here to better understand the development process, how they interact with the human body, and the role they play in global health.
When it comes to the coronavirus, a vaccine would be the ultimate weapon and the best route back to normal life. Officials like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious disease expert on the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, has claimed a vaccine could arrive in at least 12 to 18 months. The grim truth behind this rosy forecast is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon. Clinical trials almost never succeed. We’ve never released a coronavirus vaccine for humans before. Our record for developing an entirely new vaccine is at least four years – more time than the public or the economy can tolerate all the current masking and social-distancing orders.
Fortunately, we already have a head start on the first phase of vaccine development: research. The outbreaks of SARS and MERS, which are also caused by coronaviruses, spurred lots of research. SARS and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, are roughly 80 percent identical, and both use so-called spike proteins to grab onto a specific receptor found on cells in human lungs. This helps explain how scientists developed a test for Covid-19 so quickly.
Whenever a vaccine is developed, the only important issue is making sure it’s safe and effective. Until then, using all necessary measures, including wearing a mask, socially distancing, washing hands, disinfecting, and not touching our faces are the best defenses. Staying current on already available vaccines, like the flu vaccine, can protect our bodies from becoming more susceptible to other diseases as well.
What are the benefits of the flu vaccine?
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. During flu season, flu viruses circulate at higher levels in the U.S. population. “Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May.
An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting sick and spreading it to others. It takes 2 weeks before the vaccine becomes effective so illness can still occur during that time. That’s why it’s imperative to get it early in the fall before flu season takes hold.
Every flu season is different, and the influenza infection can affect people differently. Millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized, and tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. The CDC estimates that flu-related hospitalizations since 2010 ranged from 140,000 to 710,000, while flu-related deaths are estimated to have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000. Of those who died, 80% were not vaccinated and 40% of children had no risk factors for complications. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine annually.
A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons. First, the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and sometimes updated to keep up with changing flu viruses. There is still a possibility you could get the flu even if you got vaccinated. The ability of the flu vaccine to protect a person depends on various factors, including the age and health status of the person being vaccinated, and also the similarity or “match” between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those circulating in the community. If the viruses in the vaccine and the influenza viruses circulating in the community are closely matched, vaccine effectiveness is higher. If they are not closely matched, vaccine effectiveness can be reduced.
However, it’s important to remember that even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu- related complications. Such protection is possible because antibodies made in response to the vaccine can provide some protection (called cross-protection) against different, but related, influenza viruses.
This year, flu vaccines are crucial
Cross-protection is vital this year, as “Every time you get a virus it can predispose you to having another infection on top of it,” said Flor M. Muñoz, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for preventing influenza. Providers are also working to educate people on the importance of the flu shot this year as an influx of flu cases could lead to what people are calling a “Twindemic”, with the American health care system juggling both a heavy flu season and COVID-19.
Medical providers are counting on the general population to help ease the load of patients in hospitals by maintaining their health and taking preventative measures to avoid requiring medical care. Do not put off routine wellness visits, follow-up appointments, etc. Speak to your provider about what is best in your situation; maintaining your health is an essential factor in keeping you and your loved ones healthy and safe as well as assisting those caring for patients with COVID-19 related illness.
Courtney Medical Group has remained open so that our patients can continue to receive the highest standard of medical care under the most stringent safety guidelines. When necessary we can also “see” you tele-medically. Maintaining your health is the key to staying healthy throughout these tough times. Flu vaccines will be available September 1, 2020. Please contact us if you would like to schedule an appointment to receive yours.