Fending off a devastating “twilight” chemistry from flu and COVID-19 begins with the simple task of getting a flu shot, health experts say.
For this reason, government officials and health systems on Long Island are aggressively pushing to increase the number of people receiving the vaccine. According to state data, more than 1 million New Yorkers have been shot this flu season so far.
“We need to remind everyone that 20,000 to 40,000 people die from the flu every year,” said Dr. Mark Jarrett, Chief Quality Control Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Northwell Health. “If these deaths can be avoided with the flu vaccine, then we definitely want to do that and relieve all health systems and hospitals so that they do not care for many very sick flu patients at the same time.” stressed out with many patients with COVID-19. “
The flu season officially starts in October, and activity in New York and the United States remains low, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health.
Long Beach’s Lissete Calvio got her flu shot Thursday from Karleen Duhaney, a nurse outside the Valley Stream Presbyterian Church. Photo credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.
Hopeful signs this year
Health experts said there are some hopeful signs that the flu season will be moderate.
The southern hemisphere has had a modest influenza season, said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Infectious Disease Foundation based in Bethesda, Maryland.
“Sometimes that’s a little prediction of what might happen here,” he said.
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At the same time, according to Schaffner, large numbers of people in this hemisphere were getting flu shots, wearing masks, and being socially aloof to fight off COVID-19.
“Here in the United States we have two populations – the cautious and the carefree people,” he said, referring to people who have failed to follow guidelines about wearing face-masking masks and staying 6 feet apart. “There are enough carefree people that we are now seeing spikes in COVID in most states. These are places that are also not good at handling the flu.”
Schaffner said there is no problem with flu vaccine inventory other than “spot shortages” when people try to get the shot at a particular pharmacy or location.
“There is always more,” he said.
An effective vaccine
Every year doctors work on questions from patients who are skeptical about the flu vaccine. Pharmaceutical companies make annual vaccines based on several factors, including strains of flu from the previous year.
Last year there were some concerns when the vaccine against the A strain of flu was found to be more effective than against the B strain, which rose sharply in the mid-season.
Getting the vaccine, even if it doesn’t fit perfectly, is still important, said Lawrence Eisenstein, health commissioner for Nassau County.
“This is a subject that I find very frustrating as an infectious disease expert,” Eisenstein said during a recent Stony Brook Medicine webinar on flu that also featured Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott, attended.
“Let’s say there is only a 50 percent match in a bad year,” Eisenstein said. “If you can protect 50 percent of the population in the United States from a deadly virus, it’s not a bad thing at first. If we had a COVID vaccine to protect half the population, we’d be excited to begin with.”
Pigott agreed that everyone should get a flu shot for over six months. People who are vaccinated and who contract the flu have milder symptoms and are less likely to end up in hospital.
“It’s definitely more effective than nothing,” he said.
Pharmacies in the area, like this CVS pharmacy in Valley Stream, offer the flu shot to their customers. Photo credit: Kendall Rodriguez
Lots of vaccinations
Early statistics show that between August 1 and October 19, more than 1.3 million New Yorkers received their flu vaccinations, according to the New York State Health Department. However, this figure does not include all adults and vaccinations given in the five boroughs of New York City during that period. For nearly 20 million people, it’s still a drop in the ocean.
Medical professionals are looking for more ways to bring flu vaccinations and education to the community.
Stony Brook Medicine works with libraries in Suffolk County on free flu vaccine webinars and flu clinics.
“We consider it an educational problem,” said Dr. Cordia Beverley, Assistant Dean of Health Policy at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. “We have to convince the population that this is important.”
Nassau County’s Fight the Flu campaign includes several free flu clinics, including one held at Valley Stream Presbyterian Church on Thursday.
“I don’t want to get sick,” said Mary Hansen Sterger, 68, of Valley Stream after receiving a local flu shot. “I feel like an important member of my family. I exercise. I stay healthy, and that’s part of it.”
Get the flu shot
Looking for a flu shot? Here are some resources with information and locations:
SOURCE: Newsday Research
Lisa joined Newsday in 2019 as an employee. She previously worked at New York, the New York Daily News and the Asbury Park Press in politics, government and general affairs.