Ready for What’s Ahead? You Have the Power to Prevent a Twindemic

Man wearing a mask walking while checking phone and carrying groceries

Posted October 22, 2020

Kids are back in school, sort of. Remote learning, in-person masking and restrictions impacting everything from lunch to sports to music programs are reminders of what has become our new normal. Many of us now work from home, connected to our colleagues through technology that can at the same time feel both comforting and isolating. Still, we are grateful to be working, as many of us know someone who has been furloughed or even lost a job.

In our everyday lives, we cautiously gravitate toward opportunities to feel normal - grabbing a quick meal in a physically distanced restaurant or maybe watching our children play outside with friends - reflecting at times how all of the social connections that made up our days now seem like a gift we took for granted.

The new rules of the pandemic - masks, physical distancing, hand sanitizer - have sowed ambiguities and divisions. Walk down the grocery store aisle the wrong way, and you may get a glare from a masked shopper. See someone not wearing a mask, and you aim for six feet of clearance. The emotional wear and tear of having to make daily choices, based on our own personal tolerance for risk, is taking a toll on us all. Planning for the emerging holiday season is tough.

With the timing of the coronavirus vaccine still uncertain, we must continue to be vigilant. Visit our flu site to learn more about protecting yourself. 

And yet, in our communities here in Vermont and Northern New York, our diligence continues to make a difference. Our communities have experienced some of the lowest infection rates in the nation, something we can be proud of. But the fight is far from over. With the timing of the coronavirus vaccine still uncertain, we must continue to be vigilant, because there's another threat right around the corner: the flu.

"Influenza kills people every year," says Jeyse Leyse, MD, an infectious disease expert at UVM Health Network - Central Vermont Medical Center. Unlike COVID-19, against which we have only preventative measures right now to stop the spread of the disease - masking, physical distancing and handwashing - we do have a flu vaccine.

Last year, across the United States, there were anywhere from 39 to 56 million cases of influenza. As many as 62,000 people died. Today, with more than 221,000 COVID-19 deaths (and counting) nationwide and new spikes in infection rates around the country, the thought of two pandemics - a "twindemic" - means that it is essential that we do everything we can to prevent the flu.

Getting the flu vaccine makes you less likely to pass the flu on to someone else. Just as wearing a mask protects those around us, getting a flu vaccine is good for you and it's good for those around you.

Even for young, healthy people, it makes sense to be vaccinated, says Alison Guile, MD, a primary care provider at UVM Health Network - Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, New York. “Because that sharply lowers the risk of transmitting the flu to your grandmother, your teacher at school or somebody in a nursing home."

Nowhere will the impact of these personal choices be more evident than in our health care facilities. "Every year we talk about flu season as a time when hospitals are really busy and usually full to capacity," says Dr. Leyse. "If we are full with influenza patients, we are not going to have the capacity to help COVID-19 patients."

Last year, fewer than half of the adults in America got a flu shot. Some people say, "Oh, I've never had the flu." Others are concerned about potential side effects. In fact, the flu vaccination, developed in the 1940s, has consistently been proven safe.

For Dr. Leyse, it all comes down to making smart personal choices to mitigate risk. "You wear a seat belt because if you get into an accident it could save your life," she says. "Influenza kills people every year, and having a vaccine could save your life."

There's no question that the conversation around getting your flu shot has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as we are growing weary of the precautions we need to take to stay healthy, we are constantly reminded that the coronavirus is not tired.

Now more than ever, your flu shot matters.