A vaccine for a disease that's killed far too many people in the last year is available now, and it's imperative that you go get it immediately.
No, I don't have an inside connection to the CDC about a vaccine for COVID-19 - I'm talking about the flu.
While our attention has rightfully been elsewhere in terms of contagious sicknesses in the last several months, it is the time of year when the flu starts ramping up and spreading through millions of Americans. While tens of thousands of Americans sadly die each year from the flu, a staggering 55% of Americans didn't even get a flu shot last year, likely due to the common thought that only the elderly or individuals already suffering from serious illnesses should worry about it.
While it's true that some individuals will be more susceptible to it and its symptoms than others, the convergence of a flu surge and a COVID surge could very rapidly overwhelm our hospital system.
"We already know that with COVID-19 peaks, we were maxing out on our ICU capacity in places like New York City in late March of this year," Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco, said in a blog post. "So it wouldn't take too much to put us over the edge again."
This year, let's not allow the common philosophy on flu shots to take hold. The above nightmare scenario for our healthcare systems can be avoided if we make sure that everyone gets their flu shot, which is simple, quick, and in most cases, free.
For some working Americans, access to a flu shot might be slightly more limited this year; many organizations set up an annual in-office flu vaccine clinic, but the pandemic has made that a logistical impossibility for many businesses. Still, flu shots are accessible at the vast majority of our country's pharmacies. Check with your health insurance. Coverage for the flu shots is usually free or a low copay.
While the consequences of a flu season and COVID surge intertwining could be historic and severe, there are some smaller silver linings to our current situation. For example, with most of the country wearing masks and washing their hands more frequently, there's a good reason to assume the flu will be less widespread this year.
But let's not assume that will be a silver bullet. Get your flu shot, and get it early.