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As COVID-19 Cases Continue To Rise, Health Care Officials Urge More People To Get The Flu Vaccine

National Institutes of Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the flu hospitalized 400,000 Americans in 2019 and killed 22,000. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has killed 1 million people worldwide including more than 206,000 Americans, just eight months after the country's first reported case. While COVID-19 cases continue to increase, health care officials hope their recommendation for the flu vaccine will encourage more people to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others against the flu and COVID-19.


Murray-Calloway County Hospital performs the majority of COVID-19 testing in the county so the health department has been periodically reporting the hospital’s latest calculated positivity rate. As of Oct. 11 was reportedly 8.99%. According to the Kentucky Coronavirus Monitoring, as of today, the COVID-19 testing positivity rate is 4.72 percent, meaning Calloway County has a higher rate than the statewide percentage. 


As of today, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases for Calloway County is 813 with 128 people isolated at home, three people hospitalized, and 11 deaths.


The pandemic continues to claim lives as influenza (flu) season approaches and health officials recommend everyone receives the flu vaccine this year, sparking concern there will not be enough to go around. The CDC is hoping to increase flu vaccinations among Blacks and Hispanics, who are more at risk for COVID-19 and less likely to have access to the vaccine and some states also are holding drive-thru flu vaccinations and outdoor clinics to avoid crowds.


But some healthcare professionals say they’re having trouble accessing the flu vaccine to administer to patients, in line with CDC recommendations.


Dr. Aribbe Burch, an independent physician who’s affiliated with Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital in Paducah noted, “It has been difficult to buy the flu vaccine,” and recommends people get tested for the flu and COVID-19 if they are ill, since the symptoms for both overlap. 


Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital is holding an annual free flu shot clinic at McCracken County Public Library on Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central Time, with COVID-19 testing also offered. Individuals can receive a vaccine through a socially-distant or drive-thru option. 


Murray State University Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Don Robertson, sent out an email informing students the university would offer two flu shot clinics. The first was Oct. 14 and another today, Oct. 15, from 2–5 p.m. (walk-up clinic) at Hart Residence Hall Lawn (Winslow Dining Hall side). Students must show proof of insurance and are required to bring a completed insurance form


Dr. Bob Hughes, Chief Medical Officer for Murray State Health Services said it will be difficult to distinguish between the flu and COVID-19.  He said COVID-19 is more insidious and slower in its progression.


“Anything could happen with regards to the severity of the flu and the effectiveness of the vaccine. The coexistence of the flu and COVID-19 together will make it a challenge. We are not in the flu season yet. We could possibly see it in late November,” he said. “COVID-19 continues to slowly worsen with sometimes severe respiratory compromise and death. The only two signs or symptoms that are pretty unique to COVID-19 versus the flu are the loss of taste and smell which recovers.”


As health care officials are emphasizing the importance of getting a flu shot this year, according to virologist Robert Gallo, there is a chance the flu vaccination could aid in protection against COVID-19. Scientists are discovering that these vaccines may offer advantages to the immune system.


Gallo said the key is, "The vaccine has to have a live virus in it. The virus is attenuated so it doesn't cause disease, but otherwise the virus is alive...There's plenty of evidence for it. The weakness is we don't really know the longevity [of the protection]. It will probably work only for months, but we can't say for sure."


To further expand their knowledge on the effect vaccinations could have on COVID-19, scientists around the world are running more than a dozen clinical trials with both Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG), the tuberculosis vaccine, and the live polio vaccine to see whether they offer some protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. 


Gallo told NPR, "You watch. People who get the live flu vaccine will also be protected against the COVID-19. That's the hypothesis.”

CORRECTION: This story clarified Aribbe Burch is an independent physician associated with Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital. This story also incorrectly stated Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital was not hosting curbside flu shot clinics. Information on a flu shot clinic at McCracken County Public Library is included.

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