Guest Blogger: Dwight T. Sublett, M.D.
Public health measures in a pandemic take on new importance. In fact, experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree getting a flu shot this year could be more important than ever in light of coronavirus’ prevalence and its effects on the respiratory system.
October marks the beginning of the flu season, which could bring on what some are calling a “twindemic,” with both coronavirus and the flu circulating through the population. Contracting both viruses at the same time could be a lethal combination, especially for individuals over age 65 or those who have underlying health conditions.
How to prevent the flu While the coronavirus vaccine is currently being developed, the 2020 flu vaccine is already available. October is the ideal time to get a flu vaccine for maximum protection and to maintain effectiveness of the vaccine should there be a flu outbreak in the spring. Check with your doctor or pharmacy for more information. Most health insurance providers fully cover the cost of the vaccine or offer a low-cost option through preferred in-network specialists.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends flu vaccination as the leading way to prevent getting sick, in addition to hygiene measures like handwashing, additional sanitization measures and social distancing also currently recommended to prevent coronavirus. Staying away from others while sick is also advised, even if that means missing work, school or daycare; unlike the coronavirus, asymptomatic flu cases are uncommon. Flu contagion during colder months when people tend to congregate indoors is most common between October and March. The CDC estimates that between 29,000 and 59,000 Americans died of the flu between Oct. 1, 2019 and April 4, 2020. More than 180,000 people in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus so far in 2020, as of Aug. 1.
By the numbers: the flu vaccine reduces hospitalizations, saves lives
Each year’s flu vaccine efficacy varies between 40 and 70%, as researchers work months in advance to predict which strains of the flu will most affect the target population. Even with multi-strain variables, symptoms and related complications are significantly less in vaccinated patients.
Children, pregnant women and the elderly are considered particularly vulnerable to complications from the flu. These three groups make up the majority of flu-related hospitalizations. Getting vaccinated this year is especially important as hospital capacity is already being tested with coronavirus, personal protective equipment (PPE) is limited and medical personnel are already under strain.
A 2014 study from the Oxford Academic Journal of Infectious Diseases showed a 74% reduction in pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admissions among vaccinated children during the 2010-2012 flu season. Healthy children’s overall mortality from flu was reduced by 65%, while the population of children with underlying health conditions like autoimmune disorders and asthma saw a 51% reduction in flu-related deaths according to a 2017 CDC study.
Acute respiratory infection is cut in half for vaccinated pregnant women, according to the CDC’s 2018 data, with the risk of being hospitalized reduced by about 40%. The New England Journal of Medicine’s study from the same year also confirms that a newborn may also be protected for several months after birth.
A 2018 collaborative data study showed that the risk of adults being admitted for flu-related complications dropped 82% during the 2012-2015 flu seasons for those who had been vaccinated. The CDC also reported a correlation of fewer cardiac events among patients with heart disease who opted to get the flu vaccine.
Protect our community
Babies under 6 months and certain individuals undergoing treatment for chronic illness cannot receive the flu vaccine. Help protect these vulnerable individuals in our community by getting vaccinated and thereby reducing the spread of the flu.
Contact your insurance provider, primary care physician, the Oklahoma State Department of Health or your local county health department for more information about flu vaccine availability.
For more information about proven benefits of the flu vaccine, click here.
About Dwight T. Sublett, M.D.
Dwight T. Sublett, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician practicing general pediatrics in Stillwater for over thirty years. With a love of children and a desire to build partnerships with his patients’ families, Dr. Sublett provides the best pediatric care possible. Dr. Sublett earned his medical degree at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. He completed his pediatric residency at Oklahoma Children’s Memorial Hospital. He currently serves as the President of the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.