National Consumers League

An old threat to public health is resurfacing amidst COVID-19 worries

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

While all of us have learned to adapt to the ‘new’ ways to stay healthy we can’t let our need to avoid contact with others get in the way of the important steps we have always taken to keep disease at bay; staying up to date on vaccinations.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most of us have dutifully complied with stay-at-home orders to avoid contracting the virus. While that is critically important, there are other diseases that we must guard against. While the world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, we need to keep ourselves and our families safe by protecting overall health. This includes taking steps to diminish the risk of other dangerous outbreaks that would weaken our immune systems and put additional strain on the healthcare system.

Before the coronavirus, low vaccination rates were already a concern for many populations. But in the last several weeks, we have been alarmed to learn that the numbers of people receiving vaccinations—from the very young to the very old—have plummeted. That is extremely worrisome for public health officials.

In fact, prominent organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) have stressed the importance of maintaining vaccination against illnesses like the flu and pneumonia, which affect lung health during the pandemic. This is even more important for those with underlying conditions and those over the age of 65 who are more vulnerable to these diseases.

Early in the pandemic, we thought children might be spared from much of the outbreak. That turns out not to be true. Children need their vaccinations more than ever! Time has proven that there is still much we don’t know about the Coronavirus and how it affects the vulnerable—so staying up-to-date on pediatric vaccines is equally important.

Hesitation to visit the doctor’s office is completely understandable, but I can speak from personal experience that our health care providers are making doctor visits very safe.

When I visited the doctor on a non-coronavirus issue, they staggered patient appointments so patients never had to share a waiting room; everyone wore a mask; we observed 6-foot social distancing; there was an abundance of soap and water and hand sanitizer. The staff at the office was exceptional. They were organized, completely protected with all of the proper PPE, and very focused on making sure that I—the patient—felt safe and secure.

The best advice? Call ahead to ask your health care provider about the precautions they have in place and the best timing for a visit to update your vaccines. Adults, get your shingles, pneumococcal pneumonia, and flu shots. You don’t want those illnesses! And every child needs the array of measles, mumps, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, and other vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for children.

As we continue to live in this new world, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our families, and our communities to stay as healthy as possible. Modern medicine’s gift to humankind is an array of extremely safe and effective childhood and adult vaccines to prevent diseases that once, collectively, have killed billions globally. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, we are lucky to have these vaccines. They keep us safe and healthy. We all have to do our part and get vaccinated from preventable diseases.