Let’s proactively stop another public health nightmare!

August 20, 2020
Donna Hallas, PhD, PPCNP-BC, CPNP, PMHS, FAANP, FAAN

This is the critical moment in time for all health care providers to proactively stop this potential public health nightmare by speaking with all parents and adolescents about the absolute need for everyone to receive the influenza vaccine.

We have been living in uncertain times since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has controlled our lives, conversations, movement, media presentations, and disrupted our health care systems. We, as health care providers (HCPs), are aware of the potential dangers to individual and community health if COVID-19 surges in the fall and winter months during influenza season. This is the critical moment in time for all HCPs to proactively stop this potential public health nightmare by speaking with all parents and adolescents about the absolute need for everyone to receive the influenza vaccine. 

Create plans to administer the influenza vaccine

In her article, 2 doses of flu vaccine reduce disease burden, Miranda Hester presents the findings from a study that investigated the effectiveness of 1 or 2 doses of influenza vaccine for children aged 6 months to 8 years. Results revealed that 2 doses of the vaccine for children aged younger than 9 years was more effective than a single dose. This study further supports the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2 influenza vaccines for children aged younger than 9 years, receiving influenza vaccine for the first time. Thus, HCPs should organize a recall system for infants and children who are receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time to assure they receive their second dose 1 month after receiving the first dose. Additionally, all HCPs should establish a plan to schedule their patients to receive the influenza vaccine for the 2020-2021 season. Helping parents, teenagers, and all adults understand the need to prevent a Fall season with the potential for spikes in COVID-19 compounded by influenza is a major responsibility of all HCPs. The messaging for prevention of influenza needs to start now and medical offices, clinics, and pharmacies that administer influenza vaccines all need a consistent and strong message to help everyone understand the need for influenza vaccination.

Primary prevention strategies more important than ever

Embedded in everyone’s practice protocols are the current evidence-based principles to prevent or impede the spread of COVID-19 during all health care office visits. These protocols will also help to reduce the spread of influenza. However, the influenza vaccine is an available safe and effective vaccine to prevent influenza. Thus, it is our responsibility to convey this message to all of our patients and to the public and to encourage all to take the vaccine.

Some states are planning to have children/adolescents return to school this Fall. Although uncertainty remains about additional problems that may emerge concerning COVID-19 and school reopenings, this is an opportunity to prevent influenza through organized office-based and community efforts to vaccinate all children and adults. Health care providers must be cognizant about ways to speak with vaccine hesitant and vaccine resistant parents and adults and present 1 consistent message concerning influenza vaccine to prevent potential devastating effects of COVID-19 and influenza circulating simultaneously in the 2020-2021 known influenza season.

Responsibilities of school districts and boards

School districts or school boards currently require specific vaccinations for children/adolescents to attend school. In recent years, as some vaccine preventable diseases have emerged in communities, (eg, measles) many school districts, boards, and state legislatures have placed limits on vaccine exemptions. This is an opportunity for school districts and boards to require the influenza vaccine for all individuals who attend or work within the school system. Health care providers should advocate for school districts, boards, and legislatures to act quickly to require influenza vaccine as a prerequisite for school attendance. The time to be proactive and prevent a public health nightmare that will emerge if COVID-19 and influenza are circulating together in our communities is now.