Many of the typical beats of life that accompany fall are on hold this year — in-person classes in many communities, high school sports under the Friday night lights, office-based work, and so many other customary activities.
One constant from this time of year that remains unchanged amid the life-altering impacts of the coronavirus is the necessity of getting a flu shot.
In fact, the presence of COVID-19 makes it even more important for you and your family to get a flu shot as soon as possible. Flu season start in October and traditionally stretches to April.
Last flu season, an estimated 39 million Americans became ill with the flu, leading to millions of medical visits, 410,000 hospitalizations, at least 24,000 deaths, and billions in economic impact. Yet, as in years past, many Americans and Virginians did not get a flu shot despite the fact that they are accessible and affordable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 45.3 percent of U.S. adults, ages 18 and older, got their flu shot and 62.6 percent of children, ages 6 months to 17 years, received their flu shot during the 2018-19 flu season. Although Virginia outperformed the national average for adults (50.6 percent) and children (69.6 percent) during the 2018-19 flu season, we can do better.
Getting a flu shot is an easy, cost-effective way to protect your health as flu season approaches amid the ongoing coronavirus threat. It is one less thing to worry about for you and your family. People who get a flu shot are much less likely to contract the influenza virus. And if they do, their symptoms generally will be less severe.
We have all had to adjust our daily routines and how we venture out in public since March when Virginia recorded its first COVID-19 cases.
People now are accustomed to wearing masks in public and maintaining appropriate social distancing.
Doctor and dentist offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and health clinics all have safety protocols in place to provide needed care to patients whether that is a flu shot, catching up on missed childhood vaccinations, or rescheduling needed procedures that previously were postponed due to the public health emergency.
As physicians, we share a belief in the power of preventive behaviors such as healthy eating, exercising, and routine medical check-ups to maintain good health. Receiving timely vaccinations falls into that category.
In addition to protect yourself, getting a flu shot also can help relieve pressure on our health care delivery system, which still is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
If more Virginians get flu shots this year, it could help reduce overall flu cases and the number of doctor and hospital visits associated with the virus.
Just like wearing masks and avoiding large crowds, getting a flu shot is another way the public can show their support for the dedicated doctors, nurses, and frontline heroes who care for people when they become seriously ill.
As we prepare for flu season, many of these dedicated clinicians have spent the better part of six months battling the coronavirus and caring for patients stricken with it.
A bad flu season could increase the strain on these frontline health care professionals and Virginia’s health care delivery system.
So please, do your part to help protect public health, support our health care heroes, and ease the severity of the upcoming flu season. Make plans to get a flu shot for yourself and your family and remind your friends and neighbors why getting a flu shot is so important this year.
Please don’t wait until the height of flu season — the vaccine is available now, and covered by health insurance plans as well as programs such as Medicaid. When you, your family, and friends get your flu shot, you are not only taking care of yourself, you are looking out for the community around you.
Dr. Daniel Carey is Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources. Dr. Andy Mueller is President and CEO of Lynchburg-based Centra Health System.