Jewish Home Stresses the Importance of Flu Vaccine in the Midst of Global Pandemic
Every fall, the Jewish Home braces itself for flu season by urging residents and staff to get the recommended annual vaccine. This year, compliance is more vital than ever as seasonal influenza dovetails with COVID-19, creating a potential double threat of risk and susceptibility.
The overlap complicates the issue in many people's minds, but the mandate for action remains abundantly clear, says Noah Marco, MD, the Jewish Home's chief medical officer. "People might think they're less likely to get influenza because they're social distancing and wearing masks, but that's really the wrong way to look at it," he says. "We're all part of a community, and we all have responsibility to that community. Even if you aren't worried about getting influenza yourself, the possibility of you contracting the virus and then giving it to someone and potentially even killing them is no different now than it was in prior flu seasons."
In fact, Dr. Marco continues, now is precisely the time for an elevated level of concern. The coronavirus has disproportionately affected the elderly and those with lower socio-economic status – the same populations disproportionately affected by influenza. "The bottom line is that the likelihood of both viruses running rampant in these communities is higher, so everyone should be getting the flu vaccine in order to help an already at-risk population," he says.
There are other compelling reasons to get the flu vaccine this year, as well. Many symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to what patients would experience from the flu, making it difficult to determine which illness is actually the underlying cause. "It's a serious question: How do we figure out whether someone has COVID or influenza?" Dr. Marco says. "But if the person has already had the flu vaccine, it's much less likely to be the flu. When it comes to treatment, that helps a lot in decision making."
Coronavirus aside, Dr. Marco points out that there have always been myths circulating that have dampened people's enthusiasm for getting a flu shot. "I've heard it all, from ‘I've had the vaccine in the past and gotten the flu from it,' which is impossible, to ‘It's too late in the season; at this point, it doesn't matter,' which is also untrue," he says.
When a vaccine for COVID-19 finally becomes available, there will be a separate set of issues to consider, Dr. Marco notes, such as which shot to get first (flu or coronavirus) and how far apart the two should be spaced out. The answers will rest, in part, on decisions made at the federal level as to how a coronavirus vaccine should be distributed.
"There is a National Institutes of Health panel looking at how to set priorities in terms of who gets the COVID-19 vaccine first," he says. "The medical director of Eisenberg Village, Dr. Michael Wasserman, sits on that panel, which means the Jewish Home has a voice in making those difficult decisions."
For now, people's focus should be on the flu shot, Dr. Marco says, and the good news is the Jewish Home purchases sufficient amounts of the vaccine to inoculate all residents and staff who request it.
"We're coming up on an ideal time to get the flu vaccine," he says. "My general recommendation is to do it in October, so it carries you through the peak of the flu season. But, really, any time is good – the main thing is just to do it!"