Other View: Get vaccinated as illness threat grows
Vaccines now allow your body to ramp up the fight against cold weather bugs as holiday gatherings loom. The shots also help protect hospital capacity, a critical consideration when workforce shortages are already straining health care systems in Minnesota and elsewhere.
Your lifetime risk of dying in a destructive storm is minimal: 1 in 35,074, according to the nonprofit National Safety Council.
You're much more likely to die by drowning or fire, yet it's still a long shot: 1 in 1,024 and 1 in 1,450, respectively.
That's a comforting reality, but we don't just blithely rely on the odds being in our favor as we go about our daily lives. Instead, we take protective measures against these risks — taking shelter when severe weather threatens, for example. Wearing life jackets on the water. Installing smoke detectors in homes and businesses.
Taking steps like these isn't living in fear. They're simple safeguards anyone can and should take. The same principle applies to vaccines, especially with this year's early start of seasonal respiratory illnesses.
While the risk of severe sickness remains relatively low, it's not zero even for healthy children and adults. Vaccines now allow your body to ramp up the fight against cold weather bugs as holiday gatherings loom. The shots also help protect hospital capacity, a critical consideration when workforce shortages are already straining health care systems in Minnesota and elsewhere.
A week ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a national briefing to highlight three pathogens: influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). While less well-known than flu or COVID, RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms but can turn serious in babies and seniors.
"With increased RSV infections, a rising number of flu cases and the ongoing burden of COVID-19 in our communities ... there's no doubt that we will face some challenges this winter," CDC officials said. In addition, they warned that health care systems in mid-Atlantic states, New England and Washington state "are currently experiencing significant capacity strain right now."
These three viruses are unlikely to stay confined to current hot spots. Fortunately, vaccines are available for influenza and COVID. While an RSV vaccine remains under development, protection against two of the three big winter viruses is fortuitous and should be taken advantage of.
"Vaccination can reduce community spread and risk of exposure to those who cannot be vaccinated, including children under 6 months of age and those who might not respond as well to vaccines such as the immunocompromised," Dr. Beth Thielen, an M Health Fairview infectious disease expert, told an editorial writer.
The responsible course of action is to get the shots and, if you're a parent, ensure that your kids are up to date. The CDC recommends an annual flu shot for those 6 months and older, with "rare exceptions."
COVID vaccines are also available for those older than 6 months, with the CDC urging Americans to stay "up to date" on boosters. Doing so depends on your age, the vaccine you first received and the length of time since your last shot. For more specific guidelines by age, go to tinyurl.com/COVIDvaccinesbyage.
Conscientious parents who buckle in kids on car trips and insist on a life jacket when boating should apply the same care in protecting children against flu and COVID. An added motivation: the potential for long waits at crowded emergency rooms should your unvaccinated little one require medical attention.
Unfortunately, there's still a lot of work to do regarding COVID and flu vaccination. Nationally, just 32% of kids ages 5-11 have completed the primary COVID series, according to the CDC. That number drops to 4.1% for children aged 2-4, and 2.4% for those under 2.
Uptake for the new COVID "bivalent" booster, which targets viral variants, is even more alarming. It's now available for those 5 and older. But less than 30% of those 65 and older (considered at high risk for COVID complications) have gotten this updated shot. Other age groups are even further behind, with just 14.3% of adults ages 50-64 having received it. Rates drop to low single digits for teens and young children.
Flu vaccine coverage is also much lower than ideal. The CDC reports 25% flu vaccination coverage for all children for the week ending Oct. 22. That coverage is "7.3 percentage points lower compared with October 2020."
An estimated 21% of adults have received the annual flu shot this year.
Questions about the vaccines are encouraged. Caroline Njau, chief nursing officer at Children's Minnesota, urges families to rely on reputable information and to discuss any concerns with a medical provider.
Vaccination is an easy, often no-cost step in staying healthy. Protecting yourself and your family is the responsible course of action. Now's the time to act.
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