There’s clearly one thing on people’s minds these days — COVID-19. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember other threats to our health. Now more than ever, vaccine preventable diseases threaten our well-being.

Although our current vaccines will not prevent COVID-19, they can help prevent potential complications of this infection, such as bacterial pneumonia. COVID-19 causes a viral pneumonia that injures the lungs. The damage allows bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae to enter and wreck further havoc.

This “secondary bacterial infection” worsens the pneumonia prolonging hospitalization and all too often leads to death. To help prevent Streptococcus pneumoniae, adults 65 and older need a single dose of pneumococcal vaccine. Younger adults with high-risk medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and liver disease should be vaccinated as well. The pneumococcal vaccine can help people survive COVID-19.

Societal disruption and disease outbreaks go hand in hand. Epidemics frequently follow earthquakes, hurricanes and wars. The political strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) led to the longest Ebola outbreak in history. Sadly, the same troubles caused almost three times as many deaths in the DRC from vaccine-preventable measles than from Ebola.

Unfortunately, this pandemic has resulted in suspension of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and similar programs for measles and other infectious diseases. Predictably, we will witness an increase in vaccine preventable diseases around the world. If we’ve learned anything from our current predicament, it is that contagious diseases are only a jet flight away.

We need to keep our guard up, as these United States aren’t immune to societal disruption. The number of under-vaccinated is growing because of the closure of medical facilities, patients delaying health maintenance for fear of COVID-19 exposure in clinics, and families losing health insurance along with their jobs. The trend needs to be reversed to prevent outbreaks of whooping cough, measles, mumps, chickenpox and the like.

Although flu season just finished, it’s important to be vaccinated this coming September and October for several reasons. COVID-19 and flu share common symptoms including fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Many suffered anxiety over their COVID-19 symptoms and were relieved when testing revealed it was “only the flu.”

The whole affair may have been avoided by receiving a flu vaccine. Come this next winter, a bad flu season concurrently with another wave of COVID-19 could be disastrous. We need to conserve our resources. Everyone 6 months of age and older should receive their flu vaccine.

Bottom line: Keep appointments for well-visits with your doctor. Well-child checks are essential for keeping vaccines up to date. Adults, even those having telemedicine visits, should stay current with their vaccines. Adults can receive vaccines either through clinic nurse visits or at their local pharmacy.

Medical facilities should screen everyone for COVID-19 before arrival and again when checking in. People that may have COVID-19 should be seen in separate facilities away from other patients. Be safe. Get vaccinated.

Vaccine Smarts is written by Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences faculty members Drs. Megan Berman, an associate professor of internal medicine, and Richard Rupp, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch. For questions about vaccines, email vaccine.smarts@utmb.edu.

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(1) comment

Terry Moore

Mute point especially when trying to make in house appointments for chronic issues and checkups then cancelled during this time. Many UTMB clinics are closed. Even tried a work around for a procedure at an urgent care center but did not work out.

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