Flu Shots in the Time of COVID

flu and covid

This is an update of the article originally published on August 7, 2020. Regulations change frequently. That’s why Sharps Compliance monitors updates and communicates any changes to its customers.

Staying at home and sheltering in place have helped reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, there has been at least one unfortunate side effect: a decrease in routine preventive medical care, like flu shots and childhood disease vaccinations.

Public health experts are concerned that lower vaccination levels during the coming fall and winter could exacerbate the current health crisis. They note that the 2020-2021 flu vaccine will be more important than ever because it’s likely that the flu and COVID-19 will both spread at the same time this fall and winter.

Influenza + COVID 

For most people, common flu symptoms like sudden fever, cough, headache, and muscle/joint pain make seasonal influenza (commonly called “the Flu”) an annoyance. They feel terrible, but soon recover. However, for some people – particularly those with underlying medical conditions – the flu is a powerful, widespread pathogen that can cause long-term health consequences – or even death. Seasonal flu can also affect economic productivity when employees call in sick and workloads have to be reassigned.

Experts warn that coinfection with both the seasonal flu and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is possible this coming flu season. Studies have found nearly 80% of patients admitted to the hospital for respiratory infections harbor at least 2 common respiratory viruses, with Influenza A as the most common coinfection with COVID-19. Concurrent infections could potentially cause excess strain on patients with underlying chronic health conditions. And despite the similarity in symptoms between flu and COVID-19, treatment can be completely different. Further, because influenza-like infections can be complicated by bacterial infections, the pneumococcal vaccine will also be important this upcoming flu season.

When the first SARS outbreak occurred in 2002, the World Health Organization advised governments and medical facilities to increase influenza vaccinations. A March 2020 study found that widespread flu vaccination before the peak of the flu season can help significantly reduce the overall burden of respiratory tract illnesses on vulnerable populations and the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic. And a June 2020 study of county-level data throughout the U.S. showed that higher flu vaccine coverage is associated with lower COVID-19 mortality rates, particularly in the elderly. This protective effect may be due to a reduction in hospitalizations and symptoms or through other more complicated immunity mechanisms.

Flu shots are effective — but only if the public receives them

Although vaccination is the most effective, minimally invasive, and cost-efficient preventative tool against the seasonal flu, the general population has yet to take full advantage of it. The CDC recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older, with rare exceptions. Flu vaccines help prevent or lessen the severity of flu infections and can reduce your risk of a flu-associated hospitalization.

Flu vaccines on the U.S. market are reviewed and updated annually to match and protect against the three or four most common strains expected to be circulating in the Northern Hemisphere that season. Licensed, age-appropriate vaccines, such as standard-dose flu shots, high-dose shots for people 65 years and older, egg-free shots and nasal spray options, can be safely administered this fall without increasing patient and employee risk of exposure to COVID-19. And until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it’s important to remember that we already have a variety of vaccines against other pathogens that can keep individuals and communities healthier.

Fears of COVID-19 may reduce flu vaccination rates

Even so, many of the people who are most at risk from COVID-19 may also be those most reluctant to visit doctor’s offices and public places. It’s essential to create an environment where they feel safe.

Fortunately, the CDC is already working with healthcare providers and state and local health departments to implement social distancing measures that control patient flow and avoid crowding within a variety of clinical and alternative settings. While traditional clinical settings can provide patients other preventive services that may have been delayed, alternative vaccination sites are instrumental in providing early, convenient access for many populations or situations.

Such sites include:

  • Pharmacies
  • Satellite clinics
  • Temporary clinics
  • Off-site clinics
  • Community clinics
  • Drive-through immunization services
  • Mobile outreach units
  • Home visits

Sharps Compliance products help support vaccination locations and protect communities

High vaccination coverage during a public health emergency is possible through the combined efforts of a variety of vaccine providers and settings.

Sharps Compliance has a variety of products for the management of all forms of vaccination waste, including comprehensive solutions for expired vaccines, multi-dose vials, and contaminated sharps. Our 2-Gallon TakeAway Recovery System consists of a puncture-resistant, leak-proof sharps container with a shipping box, saving time and expense for pharmacies, off-site events, and other immunization providers.

Vaccines are the most effective method to combat viral spread. Still, other measures such as hand-hygiene and the use of protective gloves and other PPE are also essential components of pandemic planning and response. Our 20- and 30-Gallon TakeAway Recovery Systems provide an ideal, cost-effective, and regulatory compliant solution for the comingled collection of both sharps containers and used healthcare products.

 

Kathryn Kane-Neilson
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Author: Kathryn Kane-Neilson

Kathryn earned her Bachelor of Science with a concentration in cellular pathology from the University of Texas and high-complexity testing certification by the ASCP. Kathryn has been published in the journal Cancer Cytopathology and has seven years’ experience in clinical laboratory as well as experience developing comprehensive training on biohazardous waste management in clinical and research settings.