Officials at South Carolina’s leading health agency are strongly encouraging flu vaccinations in light of ongoing health crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health experts from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control are urging flu shots with the hope that early vaccination can help flatten the state’s curve of influenza infections, fearing that an influx of flu-related hospitalizations could exacerbate issues hospitals are already facing as they deal with the worst public health crisis in a century.
“This year, this may be the most important flu shot of your life,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, interim S.C. DHEC public health director, in a news release. “We’re experiencing the worst public health crisis in 100 years, and it’s never been more important for each and every one of us to stay as healthy as possible. We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and the essential workers and first responders who are tirelessly dedicated in their service to the public as we all endure this pandemic together.”
Traxler said getting flu shots can help keep hospitals, intensive care units, and ventilators from being “overwhelmed” by both coronavirus and flu patients.
Doctors and disease experts also are concerned about health hazards posed by being infected by both respiratory illnesses at the same time.
Fighting off both infections at once could be extremely difficult for some people, especially those who are at elevated risk from developing severe complications from both COVID-19 and the flu. That includes the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and people with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
While young children are believed to be resistant to COVID-19, they are considered high-risk for the flu.
“Vaccination is one of the most successful public health interventions in history for reducing disease spread and preventing complications and deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist. “So many generations before us would have given anything to have a flu vaccine. With COVID-19’s prevalence across our state, we must use the vaccines that medical science has afforded us to help prevent illness like the flu.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone six months of age and older get vaccinated, with rare exceptions. The CDC has reported manufacturers are distributing around 200 million doses of the flu vaccine this year – a “record number” of doses, according to the agency’s website.
Vaccination reduces the chances of contracting the flu or developing severe side effects that can lead to hospitalizations or death.
“COVID-19 and the flu can have similar symptoms, and they are both serious and potentially deadly diseases,” S.C. DHEC said Friday. “However, it’s important to understand that COVID-19 is causing significantly more hospitalizations and deaths in South Carolina and across the country.”
According to S.C. DHEC, when comparing COVID-19 to influenza:
• An average of 36,000 people have died in the United States each year over the past decade due to influenza. The current death toll in the U.S. for COVID-19 stands at over 209,000 deceased in the span of eight months.
• In South Carolina, over the past six years, there have been an average of 140 flu deaths each year. The death rate among South Carolinians is more than 25 times higher for COVID-19, with over 3,530 state residents dying from coronavirus-related causes between March 1 and Oct. 7.
• COVID-19 is now the third-leading cause of death for South Carolinians compared to the most recently-available data (2018), surpassing the death toll from accidents. More South Carolinians die of heart disease and cancer than coronavirus – the first- and second-leading causes of death, respectively.