More than 23 million children missed their essential childhood vaccinations worldwide during the pandemic. Adults missed their shingles vaccinations over the past two years as well. It's crucial to get caught up on immunizations as soon as possible.
In the early days of the pandemic, as medical offices closed and telehealth visits became the norm, immunizations fell by the wayside. Now office visits can happen again, and it's time to talk to your primary care provider about how to get back on track.
For a child, missing vaccinations can have dire consequences. Measles and chickenpox outbreaks can happen anywhere. A localized resurgence of polio has even emerged in nearby New York state despite polio being virtually eradicated in the United States. Both chickenpox and measles can cause pneumonia, and measles can also cause encephalitis resulting in permanent brain damage. Polio can cause paralysis and even death. Preventing these diseases through vaccination is critically important for the individual and the community.
With increased confusion surrounding vaccinations throughout the pandemic, many adults were also unable to get their shingles vaccinations through their local pharmacies and primary care providers. If you had chickenpox as a child, the virus that causes shingles still lingers inside you. If you go on to develop shingles, you may experience localized tingling or numbness before developing a blistering rash that can be painful to the touch and debilitating for weeks on end. Thankfully, the two-dose shingles vaccine is available for adults 50 and older and can spare individuals from this painful disease.
Care providers at Mount Nittany Health witnessed a sharp decline in the flu, colds, and other respiratory illnesses in the first year of the pandemic. Protective measures such as hand washing, masking, and social distancing allowed many people to avoid these seasonal illnesses as well as COVID, including people with underlying conditions preventing them from being able to receive vaccinations. However, with decreased exposure to infections our bodies can also forget how to manage the more common illnesses that we otherwise would have been seeing, including respiratory syncytial virus or “RSV”.
Each year in the United States, RSV leads to approximately 2.1 million outpatient visits among children younger than five and 58,000-80,000 hospitalizations, according to the CDC. Most people recover from an RSV infection in a week or two, but some, particularly children, can have complications. There is no vaccination for RSV, but once acquired, the body gains resistance to it, which helps fight off future infections. Since few children contracted RSV in the early days of the pandemic with the success of infection prevention measures, RSV cases are now on the rise.
As we begin the new year, there are three respiratory viruses to be mindful of – COVID-19, influenza, and RSV, the so-called "tripledemic." In addition to hand washing, masking, and staying home from work or school if you feel sick, you can protect yourself by updating your COVID-19 booster and getting a flu shot. Getting your flu shot at the same time as the bivalent booster is safe, and if your provider does not have the same brand of shot that you had last time, mixing and matching is also safe.
Mount Nittany Health is committed to caring for our community. You can help – get the COVID-19 vaccine and influenza vaccination, and help stop the spread. Mount Nittany Health patients can schedule appointments with their primary care provider for the first COVID vaccination, booster doses, and flu vaccination. Please call 814.278.4600 to schedule an appointment.