UPMC is preparing for the challenges associated with flu season overlapping with the COVID-19 pandemic.
With countries in the Southern Hemisphere reporting a milder flu season, UPMC experts are increasingly optimistic that same trend will occur in the United States. However, at a press briefing today, health system leaders emphasized the importance of receiving a flu vaccine this year.
“If our communities stay strong and continue doing what we need to do to prevent COVID-19, this may help reduce the impact of influenza and other respiratory viruses. But that’s not to say that you should skip your flu shot,” said Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC’s medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology. “The vaccine is a safe and effective way to reduce the impact of seasonal flu.”
While the world awaits a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. David Nace, chief medical officer for UPMC Senior Communities, explained that some vaccines tend to be less effective in older adults due to changes in the immune system that come with age.
Regardless of a future COVID-19 vaccine, the elderly population will still be the most vulnerable to both COVID-19 and the flu, but masking does make a difference.
“We have a clear and growing evidence-base that masking protects you and others – by preventing infection, and even by reducing the severity of infection,” said Nace, holding up his mask. “Right now, this is your best protection. Whether you’re young or old, this is your vaccine.”
To prepare for the mass employee vaccination efforts that will be required when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, UPMC is using the 2020 flu season to test “Operation One Shot,” an emergency preparedness initiative designed to improve the health system’s already high employee vaccination rate and pace.
According to Dr. Don Yealy, UPMC’s senior medical director and the chair of emergency medicine, most of the participating hospitals vaccinated well over 70% of their staff through Operation One Shot in a matter of days, with some reaching 100%, an effort that normally takes seven or eight weeks.
Visit UPMC.com for more information about scheduling a flu shot.