A program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Immunization Awareness Month is held each August to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages.
Ensuring that routine vaccination is maintained or reinitiated during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential for protecting individuals and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks.
Routine vaccination prevents illnesses that lead to unnecessary medical visits, hospitalizations and further strain the healthcare system. For the upcoming influenza season, typically October through April, the influenza vaccination, or “flu shot,” will be essential in reducing the impact of respiratory illnesses in the population and resulting burdens on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an Aug. 12 interview, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield advised that rising cases of COVID-19 combined with the annual flu season could create “the worst fall… we’ve ever had” unless 95% to 99% of Americans heed guidance from health officials related to slowing the spread of the coronavirus, including wearing face masks, physical distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), frequent hand washing and reducing close contact with people who are not a part of your household – precautions that could also reduce transmission of the flu.
Dr. Redfield also urged Americans to add a fifth precaution: getting a flu vaccine. The CDC has purchased millions of doses more than usual this year in the hope that everyone who can get vaccinated will do so. The goal is to minimize the number of people who need to be hospitalized for the flu so that more beds, medical equipment and supplies and staff are available to those who get hospitalized for COVID.
Are vaccines safe?
Vaccines are safe and effective. Data show the current U.S. vaccine supply is the safest in history, and there has never been a single credible study linking vaccines to long-term health conditions.
The widespread fear that vaccines increase risk of autism originated with a 1997 study published by Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon who later lost his medical license. The article was published in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, suggesting that the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine was increasing autism in British children. The paper has since been completely discredited due to serious procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest and ethical violations, and was retracted by The Lancet.
Several other major, credible studies found no link between any vaccine and the likelihood of developing autism. Additional information is available at cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html.
Who should get immunized?
Babies and children: On-time vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases. For age-specific vaccine information from birth through 18 years, visit cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/by-age.
Adults: Adults 19 years of age and older need to keep their vaccinations up to date because immunity from childhood vaccines can wear off over time. Most adults need a yearly influenza shot and a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster every 10 years. Other vaccines may be needed based on age, health conditions, job, lifestyle or travel habits.
Vaccinations should be postponed for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, regardless of whether they have symptoms, until they have met the criteria to discontinue their isolation.
Who should get the flu shot?
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the 2020-2021 flu season, the CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age receives the influenza vaccination, with rare exceptions.
People who should not get the flu shot include children younger than 6 months of age and individuals with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics or other ingredients. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your health care provider.
According to the CDC, September and October are good times to get a flu shot. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue into January and even later.
Can the flu shot give you the flu?
No, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Per the CDC, flu shots are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with: a) flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious; or b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection.
Are there safety protocols for administering vaccines due to COVID-19?
Yes. The CDC has issued and maintains extensive guidelines to assist immunization providers in the safe administration of vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your immunization provider can answer any questions you have on safety protocols and procedures developed in response to the guidelines.
Southcentral Foundation (SCF) offers health and wellness services, including vaccines throughout all stages of life, for Alaska Native and American Indian people living in the Cook Inlet region of Alaska. Part of SCF’s Emergency Management Plan and Pandemic Response includes different levels of operations and staffing based on many factors, including heeding guidance from health authorities and local officials. SCF is closely monitoring state and local health mandates and will make updates to clinic protocol as needed, keeping the safety and health of customer-owners and employees a top priority. For information or to schedule an appointment, visit southcentralfoundation.com or call (907) 729-4955 / (800) 478-3343.