As the world battles COVID-19, summer has turned to autumn, and a new chill is in the air. With this change, even in a pandemic, comes the flu season. As a physician assistant (PA), one concern for my patients’ health is the possibility that many will forgo routine health checks or other preventative care because they are avoiding medical settings. When it comes to flu vaccinations, I am especially concerned.
In August, a national study by Orlando Health found that two in three parents were afraid to take their children in for vaccinations – even though 84 percent of those parents believe vaccines are necessary to protect their children from a host of diseases. I want to urge parents and all patients to make vaccinations a priority. Even though we are justly focused on the threat the COVID-19 pandemic poses to our health and the health of our children, we cannot lay down our weapons in the fight against other vaccine-preventable diseases.
This is a message PAs are joining together to share across the country as we celebrate PA Week, annually observed from October 6-12.
There has already been a sharp decline in vaccination rates during this pandemic caused by a combination of lockdowns, social distancing, and extreme caution. The decline in rates of childhood immunizations is particularly troubling. For example, New York City, which was overwhelmed by the virus in March and April, reported that in the two months after the beginning of the shutdown, vaccinations for children older than two declined 91 percent
This year, as the flu season overlaps with COVID-19, the usual methods for delivering the flu vaccines will be disrupted. In previous flu seasons, there were many convenient opportunities for the public to obtain flu shots, such as at a pharmacy offering quick and easy walk-up flu shots or during a wellness visit with a primary care provider. But now, everyday routines and behaviors have changed, and getting flu shots may take a little more planning and effort. It may be less convenient, but it’s never been more important.
Our health care system cannot afford a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak, or a worse-than-usual flu season. We all have a duty to each other to keep our immunizations up to date – and to remind our friends and family to do the same. PAs have an important role to play, as well. There are more than 140,000 PAs in the U.S., practicing in every state, and in every medical setting and specialty. According to research from the American Academy of PAs, half of PAs have tested, treated, or diagnosed COVID-19 patients. We’ve been serving on the front lines for months and are committed to encouraging our patients and the public to get their flu vaccination.
The challenges that our health care system will face next are unknown. But we do know that the flu will come this year, as it always does, and it is in our best interest as individuals and as a nation to fight with one of the most important weapons we have on hand: the flu vaccine.
Leah Yoke is an infectious disease physician assistant.
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