The coincidence of three viruses: COVID, influenza and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), have unleashed a perfect public health storm in the United States that has overwhelmed a growing number of hospitals in the country, especially pediatric wards, and caused a shortage of children’s medicines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the levels of contagion of COVID and influenza are even higher than those registered last year. Up until the beginning of October more than 8.7 million flu cases have been registered, including 78,000 hospitalizations and more than 4,500 recorded deaths.
We now know that health complications from COVID and influenza are largely preventable through vaccination.
But now we find ourselves in December, on the eve of the holidays, and so far only one in four American adults has received the flu vaccine. Although they are slightly higher figures than the previous season, they are clearly insufficient to contain the wave of influenza.
Worse yet, according to the CDC, flu vaccination rates are especially low in some of the highest-risk groups, hitting adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and children the most. So far, 14 pediatric deaths have been reported, including 2 in the past week.
And while viruses don’t discriminate by age, skin color, or ethnicity, people from distinct racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to be hospitalized with the flu.
Compared to white adults, influenza hospitalization rates are 20% higher among Hispanic adults, 30% higher among American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) adults, and nearly 80% higher among black adults.
While there may be more than one reason for the disproportionate impact of viruses in our communities, one explanation seems obvious: During the 2021-2022 season, the flu vaccination rate was just 38% for Latino adults and 42% for African Americans, compared to 54% for non-Hispanic white adults.
The message is clear: An annual flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against this virus. Vaccination helps prevent infection and can also prevent serious outcomes in people who get vaccinated but still get the flu.
It is true that vaccination does not always prevent or avoid infection, but it can make symptoms less severe and reduce the risk of hospitalization or death. And since you have to lead by example: I am vaccinated against COVID and against influenza, you and your family should be too.