By: Dr. Erika Gonzalez
Every winter I encourage my patients to get the flu vaccine. This year is no exception, but with an added twist – I’m warning of the dangers of a “twindemic.” That is, the horrific combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a raging flu season that could have been stopped.
Last year we had a relatively mild flu season – one of the mildest on record. Public health interventions, such as social distancing, masking, and limiting venue capacity and gatherings, all helped reduce the spread. But we shouldn’t be lulled into complacency. In many ways, life has begun to return to normalcy and people are more social, back at school, work and in their normal routines.
And while the Omicron variant continues to spread through our community, the height of flu season is also almost upon us. Historically, while flu season peaks in between January and March, February has the highest rate of disease reported. Now is the time to get the flu vaccine.
You might not know it, but the flu vaccine is available and recommended for anyone over the age of six months. A study released this month by the CDC demonstrated that the flu vaccination protects children against serious flu illness. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, flu vaccination rates are down this season – including for children.
Many people in Texas live in multi-generational homes. Infants to octogenarians under the same roof. This can create a nurturing environment for raising a family – but it also means we need to be extra vigilant to keep both the youngest and oldest among us healthy. They are often the most vulnerable to diseases like the flu, and close quarters and quarantining can exacerbate the spread.
For those who have not yet had an opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the good news is that the vaccines can be co-administered. By opting to get both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time, you can protect yourself against both viruses – and reduce the number of visits to healthcare facilities, making more efficient use of your time, as well as that of your health care professional.
And, while co-administering vaccines is a positive thing, you should also be aware that you can be co-infected by both diseases. We’ve already had confirmed cases of “flurona,” with patients being diagnosed with both influenza and COVID at the same time. That’s a harmful combination that we should all work hard to avoid.
With the system straining to meet capacity, it is vital that we do our part to stay well, stay healthy and stay out of the hospital. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with fly by 40-60 percent.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has put together a helpful website: www.TexasFlu.org full of helpful information and resources for you and your family to find out more about the flu vaccine – and where to find it.
Vaccinate your loved ones. Vaccinate your children. Together, we can avoid a “twindemic” and keep San Antonio healthy, thriving and on the road to recovery.
Dr. Erika Gonzalez is the CEO & President of both South Texas Allergy & Asthma Medical Professionals (STAAMP) and STAAMP Clinical Research. She is the immediate past chair for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.