President and CEO, Comagine Health
Co-chairman, Salt Lake Chamber Health Care Policy Committee
CEO, Leavitt Partners
Co-chairman, Salt Lake Chamber HealthCare Policy Committee
President, Utah Retail Merchants Association
As we weather a public health crisis together and look forward to its conclusion, words like “virus” and “vaccine” have become almost routine in our daily conversation. While we closely track the news about coronavirus cases and wait for a vaccine, let’s not forget about another virus in our midst and on the rise this season: influenza, or the flu.
Unlike the coronavirus, the flu has a vaccination available right now. Not only do we have a vaccine, but it is safe, cheap and widely available. You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine, and getting a flu shot is easy: you can work through your doctor or employer, or simply drop by your local community pharmacy. Also, most insurance will pay for your flu vaccine without any cost to you.
Why does any of this matter, when the coronavirus is posing a much greater threat to our community right now? There are lots of reasons why receiving a flu shot is more important this year than ever. First, there’s the public health perspective. The same high-risk populations most impacted by COVID-19 — our elderly and immunocompromised friends, family and neighbors — are also most at risk for complications associated with the flu.
With high COVID-19 infection rates and the flu season happening at the same time, we need to preserve our limited hospital capacity for those with the greatest need. Many hospitals are already nearing or at capacity, but by acting collectively we can “flatten the curve” — ensuring that we’re not adding additional flu cases to an already strained health care system.
Second, there’s the business and economic perspective. A stronger vaccination effort for the flu will help businesses stay open as fewer employees get sick. Also, the consumers in our community will have the confidence and health needed to stay engaged in work and commerce. We’ve all seen the ways that our business organizations can be severely impacted by public health crises, and we’ve learned there are certain small actions we can take to ensure our businesses stay safe to stay open. Getting a flu shot — like wearing a mask — is one of the small but important steps we can take to help protect our state’s most vulnerable, helping our community remove some risk from the health and economic landscape.
According to the CDC, vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40%-60%. So while it isn’t a perfect defense, it still matters. Higher flu vaccination rates will mean fewer cases of the flu — which in turn will lead to fewer severe cases of the flu. If more of us will choose to take the time to schedule and receive a flu shot, then fewer of our family, friends and neighbors will get sick and require hospitalization. We can reserve our hospital beds for those most in need and for those with cases of a virus that doesn’t yet have a vaccine.
Originally published as a guest opinion in the Deseret News, a newspaper based in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 1, 2020.