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Preventing COVID-19. Now is the Time for Seasonal Influenza Vaccination

08/25/2020

It is all too evident that COVID-19 is still circulating in our population.  To date, the U.S. has recorded 5,799,046 confirmed cases with 178,998  fatalities.  This disease will not simply "go away" spontaneously. From data collected in Europe, Asia and in areas of our nation the infection reappears after a lockdown and surges after a “super-spreader event”.  It is axiomatic that our economy will not recover unless COVID-19 is suppressed. 

 

An effective vaccine will be the most practical method of increasing population immunity thereby reducing the incidence rate of the infection.  Despite advances in developing alternative vaccines many of which are based on novel technology, it is evident that administration at levels that will protect the entire population will only be achieved by the spring of 2021 at the earliest.  Accordingly, we must be realistic and plan accordingly.

 

The first imperative is to wear a mask in public and in the workplace.  The University of Washington has calculated that if all susceptible U.S. citizens wear masks in public, 60,000 lives could be saved through the remainder of this year.  Unfortunately, wearing of masks has become a political issue and "anti-maskers" who are in denial do not realize their own vulnerability and their potential to infect fellow citizens. 

 

The second issue of immediate concern relates to vaccination against seasonal influenza.  There is every possibility that the 2020-2021 season may be severe given the forecast of a colder winter attributed to the La Nina event now developing in the Pacific Ocean.  Even with improved diagnostic procedures for COVID, physicians will be hard pressed to differentiate at an early stage between influenza and COVID-19.  Concurrent infections could elevate the fatality rate and everyone is urged to receive the seasonal influenza vaccine. Supplies of the 2020/2021 vaccine are now available including the high-titer version for the elderly and those with predisposing health conditions.  Operators of processing plants and egg packing operations in addition to farms should arrange for group-vaccinations for their employees and if possible, their immediate families.  Investment of time and money in influenza vaccination will benefit health and productivity of workers during the fall and winter.

 

We have few direct modalities to prevent COVID-19.  Masking, avoiding crowds, frequent hand washing, and common sense will have to be deployed until an effective vaccine is available.  Administration of seasonal influenza vaccine is an added measure to reduce the impact of COVID-19.