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Flu shots urged amid COVID-19 pandemic



In May of 2020, the number of milestone vaccines and immunizations administered fell among all age groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People were afraid to visit their doctor’s offices due to COVID-19. This trend may continue into influenza season, but doctors are urging that people get flu vaccines now more than ever. 

“Pandemic or not, it’s really recommended for everyone to get a [flu vaccine],” said Dr. Emily Fisher, a physician at Baylor Scott and White in Buda. “But this year, it goes back to preventing what we can. In this case, flu shots allow us to mitigate the virus and reduce the burden of respiratory illness.” 

Hospitals are already overwhelmed when it comes to coronavirus cases; Travis County has 234 COVID-19 hospitalizations, which includes patients from Hays County. Additionally, hospitals in Hays County are also taking in some patients. In the fall, more respiratory diseases will come about and hospitals will need more beds and breathing apparatuses.

Dr. Fisher said hospitals should keep doctors available to respond to COVID-19 cases and other emergencies and wants to keep as many people out of the hospital as possible. 

“We want to prevent what we can,” Fisher said, “and make sure we are not over-taxing the healthcare system.” 

She hopes we do not have a lot of episodes of overlapping COVID-19 and flu cases because no one knows how that scenario will play out; yet another reason to make sure people are up to date on their vaccines. 

The effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine is not yet known, but most years it prevents about 40% to 60%, according to Fisher. 

But there are other vaccines and immunizations to keep in mind during this pandemic. 

Many people have not visited their children’s pediatricians for wellness visits, in an effort to minimize physical contact. For example, for 5-month-old children, routine vaccines declined from about 68% in 2019, to about 50% in May 2020. Measles containing vaccination declined by about 5 percent. Other routine vaccinations have also declined, according to the CDC. 

The best way to combat this is to talk to the provider about the safest way to administer the vaccines and check which vaccines their children are due for, Fisher advised. 

Some parents are opting out of giving their children their vaccines for school, an option provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Still, DSHS says that “maintaining adequate immunization rates in school is critical to preventing disease outbreaks.” 

Fisher said even those students who will be partaking in at-home learning should get their flu vaccine and other routine immunizations. COVID-19 so far has shown to be milder in children than adults, but that is not the case with the flu and other illnesses. 

In support of providing all students the option for a flu vaccine, as done in previous years by Hays CISD, they are working on a plan for this year’s students. 

“[Student health services] are working with several vendors,” said Hays CISD chief communication officer, Tim Savoy, “and are developing a plan to allow students to have access to flu shots whether they are learning in-person or remain at-home for virtual learning. They have not finalized the plan, but should have an announcement within the coming weeks. We are targeting October for the main push for student flu shots.” 

Plans for how to administer the flu vaccine are still developing, but Baylor Scott and White in Buda is working on doing a drive thru for flu shots, said Dr. Fisher. 

“Take your flu shots and vaccines,” Dr. Fisher told The Hays Free Press. “We don’t know what’s in store for us, so let’s prevent what we can.”