I got my flu shot last Thursday morning. Unlike previous years, when my health care provider would offer walk-in “flu clinics” that involved checking in, confirming that my doc was part of the practice, then quickly moving through the line to an exam room, getting the shot, and leaving, in Covid Time I had to make an appointment.
I was greeted by a car valet who squeezed sanitizer onto my palm, then the welcome staff who handed me a paper mask (can’t wear your own) with a pair of tongs. After checking in at six feet from the counter, I proceeded to the elevator, where another patient pushed the buttons for me (I would have used my elbow instead), then on to the adult medicine waiting room and took a seat.
To my dismay, I realized I’d left my phone at home—big mistake for waiting rooms—but, fortunately, the nurse came out within a few minutes to invite me to the exam room. The rest went as usual, and I barely felt the shot (unlike a few years ago, when the nurse hit a bone near my shoulder with the needle, big ouch). All done within about the same amount of time as a flu clinic.
Since I’m over 65, I got the super flu shot, and by that afternoon, I was starting to feel a bit out of it. My arm didn’t really hurt, but I was just tired and woozy. Watching the last presidential debate did not help. Sleep was most welcome, and by the next morning, I felt like myself again.
All this made me wonder: how bad is the flu this year? I don’t usually have that kind of a reaction. And, how awful would it be to get it in Covid Time, let alone get Covid? Fortunately, at least as far as the seasonal flu goes, I can just sit back and safely speculate—and urge you, if you haven’t done so already, to get your flu shot now.
We are blessed to have easy access to a flu vaccine. A hundred years ago, people didn’t have that option. The great influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 infected an estimated 500,000,000 people worldwide. Of those, about 50,000,000 died—including 675,000 individuals here in the U.S.
In the past eight months, at least 225,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. According to the best estimates, we won’t have access to a widely distributed vaccine until at least next summer. By that time, if we continue on our current path with mixed response to mask wearing and social distancing, the nonpartisan Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that we will have lost nearly 383,500 of our fellow citizens by January 31, 2021. If everyone finally concedes to wear masks, the projection is still very grim, but lower, 321,500 deaths. And if we go the way of easing restrictions, the total jumps to a projected 480,000 dead—well on the way to the death toll of a century ago.
Just writing these numbers is mind-boggling. Covid cases are spiking across the U.S. as I write. In regions that are surging, hospitals are overwhelmed and running out of ICU beds. We are heading into a very dark winter. Even with best practices, because of inconsistent public health practices nationwide, we may well lose another 100,000 fellow citizens in just a few months.
Nonetheless, given that a safe and reliable Covid vaccine is still many months away, if everyone would just wear a mask, we could save about 50,000 American lives between now and February. Think about it. 50,000 lives.
Our national election is truly a life-or-death decision this year. Please wear a mask. Vote safely. Vote.
And when that effective, scientifically-proven Covid vaccine is finally available, get in line. The safety of all depends on each of us.
Image: “Boston Red Cross volunteers assembled gauze influenza masks for use at hard-hit, Camp Devens in Massachusetts,” 1918, Centers for Disease Control.