This fall and winter, both COVID-19 and influenza will be circulating at the same time. Both are respiratory illnesses and have similar symptoms. Without testing, it will be difficult to tell the difference between the two. Luckily, we have a way to prevent the burden of having two deadly respiratory diseases circulating at the same time. That prevention is the influenza vaccine.
While the influenza vaccine is not 100% effective, it can substantially decrease influenza illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. During the 2018-2019 influenza season, when the vaccine effectiveness was estimated to be only 29%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 50,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths were prevented. This was with approximately 49% of the United States population receiving a flu vaccine. Imagine what could be prevented if everyone received a flu vaccine.
One major component to North Dakota’s COVID-19 response has been to preserve hospital capacity. A severe influenza season while COVID-19 is still circulating in North Dakota has the potential to wreak havoc on our already stressed healthcare system. Health care workers are already stretched thin caring for positive COVID-19 patients. Adding influenza increases the number of beds in use, increases the numbers of patients requiring a ventilator, and increases the need for health care workers. Every hospital bed that is not used for an influenza patient can be saved for a COVID-19 patient.
North Dakota makes it a priority to keep schools and childcare centers open and one sure way to keep these establishments functional is to keep their students and staff healthy. Influenza vaccination of children and staff plays an important role to ensuring that parents can continue working and continue to provide for their family.
North Dakota also strives to keep businesses open and when we have healthy employees and thriving businesses, we can ensure a healthy economy. When employees are vaccinated, employers see a drop in absenteeism and it also reduces the workload burden of healthy employees when sick coworkers are unable to perform their duties.
While it may seem like there is so much out of our control during this pandemic, getting vaccinated against influenza is within our control and will protect not only those who receive flu vaccine but also our friends, families, and neighbors. By everyone doing their part and getting vaccinated the citizens of North Dakota can continue to protect the health of our state.
Misty Anderson, DO
North Dakota Medical Association