Shots to prevent the flu are more important than ever this year — especially with uncertainty about the path of the coronavirus pandemic as winter approaches.

Last year, as many people remained isolated to stop the spread of COVID-19, the flu season was mild. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that just 1,675 out of 818,939 — 0.2 percent — of all respiratory tests in the United States came back positive for the flu. The nation had fewer flu deaths, illnesses and hospitalizations, relieving the health care system as COVID-19 cases increased and hospitals filled up.

The 2021-22 flu season is around the corner, and health care experts want to stop the spread before it starts. That’s where vaccines come in. Getting a flu shot decreases a person’s chances of becoming ill. Considering the CDC estimates that 12,000 to 52,000 people a year have died of flu between 2010 and 2020, prevention is a way to save lives.

Fortunately, all the public health strategies that prevent the spread of COVID-19 also work for flu prevention. Hand-washing, staying distanced from others and wearing a mask all are effective strategies. In many Asian countries, mask wearing in flu seasons was a common practice before COVID-19 surfaced.

“It is conceivable that as we go on, a year or two or more from now, that during certain seasonal periods when you have respiratory-borne viruses like the flu, people might actually elect to wear masks to diminish the likelihood that you’ll spread these respiratory-borne diseases,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Meet the Press not long ago.

It’s likely last year’s downturn in flu cases in the United States showed just how effective COVID-19-safe practices can be in preventing the spread of the flu. Still, just as with COVID-19, vaccinations are an incredible first line of defense. Get those shots.

Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center attracted 2,400 people to its annual drive-thru flu clinic last weekend, and another one is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 455 St. Michael’s Drive. Masks are required. If that’s not convenient, flu shots are available at local pharmacies and medical centers, too.

It’s in all our interests to prevent the spread of flu because the COVID-19 outlook remains uncertain. Despite vaccinations that work to stop the spread of the coronavirus and reduce symptoms in breakthrough cases, too many people have chosen to go without.

A substantial minority of unvaccinated people allowed COVID-19 to spread, mutate and potentially grow more contagious and deadly. Clearly, the delta strain has pushed the health care system to its limits, including in New Mexico. Our state cannot afford to burden busy hospitals and tired health care workers any more than they already are.

In 2020, Department of Health numbers indicate 585,301 adults and 191,560 children and teens got flu shots in 2020. But early this week, it appears only 141,386 adults and 38,893 children and teens have received flu vaccines.

Those numbers need to increase and will as people become more aware of flu dangers.

One lesson of the pandemic that is worth taking to heart — people can do more to prevent infections from spreading. Not because of government mandates, but because individuals exercise common sense.

We have learned a valuable lesson, after all. Flu doesn’t have to be a given just because winter is approaching.

(2) comments

Khal Spencer

Got ours yesterday at a local CVS. We were scheduled for 10:00 and 10:30 but as Mr. Fields says, there was not a line so we were both out by 10:10. Got my Pfizer booster scheduled for later this week.

Robert Fields

One side effect of those low numbers of folks getting their flu shots is the lines are either short or non-existent. A couple of weeks ago I spotted nobody waiting at the grocery store pharmacy and got right in and out. Trivially easy. Last year we had to brave covid to get the flu shot. Now with a covid series helping to protect us, there’s no excuse - especially when the lines are so short.

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