If ever there were a time for immunizations, it is now. With the nation and the world struggling to stay healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a time to look to one of the best public health success stories of the past century – vaccines. Yes, this is an unprecedented time, but there is long-standing precedent for how to best address infectious disease.
Millions of children and adults who would have died a hundred years ago now live long, healthy lives. Deaths from measles and diphtheria, paralysis from polio, and cancers from human papillomavirus have become rare, or are rapidly declining, due to easily accessible immunizations. Our elderly have greater protection from flu and pneumonia, and, fortunately today, new vaccines are in the pipeline to better protect us against the coronavirus pandemic.
This fall, we face a double threat of coronavirus and influenza. Flu vaccines are given from late summer through the following spring. Flu cases peak from December to March, though outbreaks can occur as late as May. To avoid overcrowding our hospitals and complicating life for clinicians as they try to manage COVID and flu cases, we need New Mexicans to get the flu vaccine in record numbers.
As stewards of public health and public education, we are deeply concerned that vaccine coverage rates for children in New Mexico are down 20% from pre-COVID rates – and this could expose us to outbreaks like measles. The good news is, according to a recent survey of providers, that over 90% of those who participated in the survey reported offering vaccines in their clinics, and 67% are offering adult vaccines. Also, 88% are telling their patients about the protective measures they have in place. Immunizations are safe and available.
Parents: please protect your families – call your health care provider and get everyone in your family up to date with immunizations. School vaccine requirements are still in force even with online and home schooling.
Everyone: please get your flu shot as soon as doses are available this year. No one wants to have flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
We are cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine for coronavirus by late 2020 or early 2021. The continuation of our COVID-safe practices, and a COVID vaccine, is what ultimately will allow us to open schools and businesses, visit family, have dinners and parties, and travel. Vaccines are a game changer. Please contact your primary care provider, public health office, school-based health center or pharmacy for more information on vaccines.