COVID-19 implication on flu vaccination rates
November 12, 2020
On a Saturday morning, during the month October 2020; more than 80 cars are lined up on the streets adjacent to a medical office building in Culver City, California. It is noted that the lines are moving slowly. Some cars have additional passengers whereas some are occupied by the driver only. Residents from the nearby apartments are out on their patios and some are looking through their windows wondering what is going on in their neighborhood. One lady shouts to an employee “Is this line for COVID-19 test?”. The nurse out at the entrance with a clipboard on hand responds, “No. these cars are lined up and waiting to get their flu vaccines offered by MOB as drive through and walk-in options.” The lady responds “interesting”.
COVID-19 is boosting flu vaccinations rates. Every institution offering flu vaccinations has seen a higher demand this year. In fact, there are shortages of high dose flu vaccines offered for 65 years and older. Why is there a sudden demand for flu vaccinations? People are fearful of getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. As the world is battling with COVID-19 and Ireland and the United Kingdom are on lock down, American citizens are panicking. The public wants to get protected from the flu more than any time in the history of flu due to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending all Americans to vaccinate against flu by the end of October 2020.
Current data from different health plan sources indicates that there are disparities among different ethnic groups in flu vaccination rates even though there is a high demand. There are lower vaccination rates among African American and Hispanic populations when compared to Caucasian and Asian American populations. According to the CDC, people 65 years and older are at high risk of developing major complications from the flu when compared to healthy young individuals. This is because of their declining immune responses with the advancement of age.
Per the CDC, it is estimated that 70-85 % seasonal flu related deaths occurred among people 65 years and older. It is also noted that 50-70 % of flu related seasonal hospitalizations will be dominated by the same age group. The CDC endorses that a flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu. The elderly population are at high risk for developing life threatening complications from the flu. There are many similarities in the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure on the chest, severe muscle pain, high fever, severe weakness or unsteadiness, cough, and worsening of chronic medical conditions. Social distancing and masking mandates for COVID-19 are also effective for flu prevention. It is important to avoid crowded places and use properly ventilated indoor space as much as possible. Being outdoors and in spaces with good ventilation significantly reduces the risk of getting infected with the flu and COVID-19.
As evidenced by the Saturday morning crowd at the medical office building, it is clear that COVID-19 is significantly driving flu vaccinations up among the metropolitan communities. Agencies are reporting that they have seen a record turn out and long lines for flu vaccinations for the 2020 flu season. There were reports that certain drive through locations had vaccinated 1000+ people in a single day. Healthcare professionals welcome this historic turnout as increased flu vaccination saves lives and keeps people sound and healthy at home, significantly reduces hospitalization, and helps to keep much needed emergency room and hospital beds for patients with higher priority conditions. Yes, COVID-19 has boosted flu vaccination rates in America.
Benoy Pullukalayil is a registered nurse in the Los Angeles, California with ambulatory care experience.