It’s afternoon and you just left the grocery store.
You’re tired, just not feeling right. You get home, bring in the groceries, and now you’re feeling like a Mack truck hit you. You reach for your thermometer: 102.F. Is this influenza? Another virus, perhaps … COVID-19? Could you have both seasonal flu and COVID-19, a very dangerous combination? Oh, and you were just at the store exposing others.
We are a virus-vulnerable island (median age 55) with no hospital ER, no urgent care center, limited EMT and paramedic capacity, and limited primary care clinic capacity. People at high risk of complications from influenza are people 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease.
Getting your flu shot each year is important because the regular flu virus changes constantly, is unpredictable, and immunity from vaccination declines over time. Even in ordinary times, influenza (flu) can be a serious disease and can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Anyone can get very sick from the flu, including people who are otherwise healthy. You can get flu from coworkers who are sick with flu. If you become infected, you can spread it to others even if you don’t feel sick.
Our island community is fortunate that our Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) and CERT have teamed to donate thousands of volunteer hours so that you can get tested for COVID on the island. Flu symptoms are similar to COVID-19 symptoms and may subject our COVID-19 testing site and health care providers to needless overload at a time when all our resources are needed for the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
We know you have a choice of whether to get your flu shot. With the coronavirus loose, we are asking you: make that choice for your own safety and for your island community. Please get your flu shot.
This year is like no other: 2020, the year of the pandemic and economic collapse. This fall and winter we now face the prospect of a “twindemic” – influenza plus COVID. As people move indoors, creating more close-quarters exposures, flu viruses and the virus causing COVID-19 will be spreading.
So, we launch our vaccinate Vashon campaign with a sense of urgency. Yes, influenza can make people sick and kill them. But now add in COVID-19. Already, COVID-19 has killed more than 200,000 Americans. Nationwide, COVID-19 cases are on the rise. Rising death tolls will follow. We’ve been here before with COVID daily killing 1,000 Americans: that’s two or more fully-loaded Boeing 747s crashing every day with no survivors.
We’ve numbed to COVID’s carnage. Remember those first COVID-19 deaths at Kirkland’s Life Care Center, America’s first hot spot? Eventually, over 35 residents died, putting caregivers in harm’s way. Those first deaths were a wake-up call for us all, when the pandemic came into our lives and when toilet paper first disappeared from the grocery shelves.
Because we took strong action back then, our region’s hospitals were spared the worst, but not New York City’s, where ambulances lined up outside full ERs, hospital staff struggled with full ICUs, caring for patients in hallways with dialysis units and ventilators, and refrigerator trucks parked out back for the dead. Now with seasonal flu on top of rising COVID infection rates, what awaits us during the dark months ahead?
One thing is clear: we must do all we can to prevent more people from getting sick. And that means you getting your flu shot. You will have several choices: Vashon Pharmacy, our two primary care clinics, a special clinic run by the Visiting Nurse Association, as well as options on the mainland.
Again, we recognize that getting your flu shot is a personal choice with community-wide implications. The stakes are high. Please get this done.
To get a directory of flu vaccine providers, visit VashonBePrepared.org/FluVaccine.
Dr. Ina Oppliger and Dr. John Osborne and co-coordinators of Vashon Medical Reserve Corps, a unit of VashonBePrepared and Vashon Emergency Operations Center.