The importance of continued routine vaccination is critical to ensuring we protect ourselves, our families and our communities. This year more than ever it is critical that everyone who can get a flu shot, get one as hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices will still be stretched caring for COVID-19 patients.
As the nation anxiously waits for the broad availability of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, before us are an arsenal of safe and effective ones for a litany of deadly diseases: measles, whooping cough, mumps, rubella, meningitis, shingles, pneumococcal pneumonia, and a host more, recommended across the lifespan and for travel.
The public health toolbox includes vaccines that can prevent cancers (hepatitis B and human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccines), reduce suffering and deaths from meningitis (meningococcal, pneumococcal, and Haemophilus influenzae type B), and have the potential to completely rid the world of a disease, like was done with smallpox (measles and polio). But, vaccines only work if they are used.
As people regain confidence in how to engage and function in an environment where social distancing, diligent handwashing, and wearing a mask have become, or should become, daily rituals, they should not forget about these other vaccines. Although the inclination may be to delay healthcare visits, it is important to know that healthcare providers’ offices are taking special precautions, such as limiting the number of people in the office, separating well- and sick- patient visits, providing drive-up vaccination programs, and abiding by strict infection control practices to protect themselves and their patients from COVID-19. So, call them to make sure your family is up to date on routine immunizations. This is particularly important as children prepare to return to schools and universities in some form or fashion.
Likewise, vaccines are no longer only for young children and babies. Advances in science and technology have brought innovation to prevention and public health in vaccines that protect across the lifespan. Today, immunization schedules are not just for children and adolescents, but also for adults as well. Healthcare providers also have access to catch-up schedules to safely and efficiently get people up to date if they missed vaccines.
Further, this fall, it will be more important than ever to get a flu vaccine. If not at your doctors office, pharmacies are an accessible venue to get the family vaccinated.
For those who are uninsured, programs exist to ensure that vaccines are still available. Children can still get vaccinated through the Vaccines for Children Program which offers free vaccine to families who cannot afford to pay for them (up to 19 years of age). With increasing numbers of people out of work and possibly losing health insurance, it is important to know you can still keep your child safe. Likewise, adults that qualify for Medicare or Medicaid may also be able to get vaccinations at no or lower costs, and in some cases, reduced cost vaccinations may be available for other adults as well. Check with your local health department.
Managing in a COVID-world is unequivocally stressful, and everyone is struggling to recalibrate, but staying healthy also means protecting ourselves and our children from diseases other than COVID-19.
On top of COVID-19, you do not want to worry about a flare-up of shingles. Or, have your child return from school with symptoms of whooping cough or measles.
Vaccinations are still critical during this pandemic. Healthcare resources are stretched and as more people once again visits stores, gather at parties, and return to schools, daycares, and workplace offices, pathogens that cause these diseases will visit, gather, and return too. So, while we wait for progress on COVID-19 vaccines, let’s do what we can to ensure that we do not have concurrent epidemics of preventable diseases.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Are you current with your recommended vaccines? If not, call your provider, don’t delay.
Angela Shen is a retired Captain from the US Public Health Service having served 22 years with the US Department of Health and Human Services and US Agency for International Development. She is a Visiting Research Scientist in the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the Voices for Vaccines Scientific Advisory Board.