Americans and people around the globe are hoping and praying for a vaccine to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Thousands of people have volunteered to serve as test subjects to assess the effectiveness of trial drugs. Others, particularly those in higher-risk groups, say they won’t travel or gather with others until they are able to get a vaccine.
The idea that an inoculation could greatly diminish the illness that is ravaging communities shines like a beacon through these dark times.
Yet this same society has latched on to the flu vaccine at a rate of just 58% nationwide. Additionally, child immunization rates have plummeted since the start of the pandemic.
According to a study from the Iowa Department of Public Health, the immunization rate among children was 24% lower in March than in 2019. In April, the rate was 56% lower than in 2019. Beginning in May, the number began to climb again, but as of June, it still was significantly lower than in the same month the previous year.
Child influenza vaccination rates declined during the COVID-19 pandemic by an estimated 21.5% from January to April 2020.
Health experts are clear on this: Getting a flu shot and keeping child immunizations up to date is more critical than ever.
There are critical reasons this should be a call to action for every American.
For one, there is growing concern among health care professionals about the “double whammy” effect. There is a reason the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sticking $140 million into immunization programs.
In a typical year, more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with influenza. A flu outbreak during a second wave of COVID-19 (or a continued first wave) would be devastating to hospital capacity and to patients. As one Dubuque doctor noted: “The last thing you want is to get influenza and then COVID-19 on top of that, which would increase the possibility of it being lethal.”
Then, there is the possibility of a resurgence of previously eliminated childhood diseases due to the lack of immunizations. As families canceled regular doctor visits during the pandemic, children fell behind on immunizations. Catching up on vaccines is critical to keep at bay the reintroduction of illnesses such as measles, which has already seen flare-ups.
For communities to maintain resiliency to measles, for example, the World Health Organization recommends a vaccination rate of 95%. Just last year, numerous southwest Wisconsin schools fell well below that benchmark with a measles vaccination rate of 73% at Potosi Elementary School, 71% at St. Rose of Lima, 86% at Cassville Elementary and 89% at Southwestern.
In this year of COVID-19’s catastrophic impact on our lives, the value of vaccines to keep whole communities safe should be apparent.
Getting flu shots and childhood immunizations can be life-saving measures in any year.
This year, as we await a life-saving vaccine to curtail COVID-19’s impact, let us all take advantage of the life-saving vaccines we already have available to us.