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Opinion: Prioritize vaccinations this year

Today, the world is engaged in a battle against COVID-19, for which no vaccine is currently
available. As a PA (physician assistant) student, I am deeply committed to helping my patients through this difficult time.

Aside from the threat of coronavirus itself, one of my concerns for my patients’ health is the possibility that many will forgo routine health checks or other preventative care because they are avoiding visits into medical settings.

When it comes to vaccinations, I am especially concerned. In August, a national study by
Orlando Health found that two in three parents were afraid to take their children in for
vaccinations – even though 84% of those parents believe vaccines are necessary to protect
their children from a host of diseases.

I want to urge parents and all patients to make vaccinations a priority. We must remember: even though right now we are justly focused on the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to our health and the health of our children, we cannot lay down our weapons in the fight against other vaccine-preventable diseases.

This is a message PAs are joining together to share across the country as we celebrate PA Week, annually observed from Oct. 6-12. I can think of no better way to celebrate this profession than to do my part to remind the public of how important vaccinations are.

Patients must also be aware of the sharp decline in vaccination rates during this pandemic caused by a combination of lockdowns, social distancing, and extreme caution. In fact, a decline in rates of childhood immunizations is particularly troubling. For example, New York City, which was overwhelmed by the virus in March and April, reported that in the two months after the beginning of the shutdown, vaccinations for children older than two declined by 91%.

This year, as the flu season overlaps with COVID-19, the usual methods for delivering the flu vaccines will be disrupted. In previous flu seasons, there were many convenient opportunities for the public to obtain flu shots – such as at a pharmacy offering quick and easy walk-up flu shots or during a wellness visit with a primary care provider. But now, everyday routines and behaviors have changed, and getting flu shots may take a little more planning and effort. It may be less convenient, but it has never been more important.

Our healthcare system cannot afford a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak, or a worse-than-usual flu season. We all have a duty to each other to keep our immunizations up to date – and to remind our friends and family to do the same.

PAs have an important role to play, as well. There are more than 140,000 PAs in the U.S., practicing in every state, and in every medical setting and specialty. According to research from the American Academy of PAs, half of PAs have tested, treated or diagnosed COVID-19 patients. We’ve been serving on the front lines for months and are committed to encouraging our patients and the public to get their flu vaccination.

The challenges that our healthcare system will face next are unknown. But we do know that the flu will come this year, as it always does – and it is in our best interest as individuals and as a nation to fight with one of the most important weapons we have on hand: the flu vaccine.

Tina Fumo is a PA student from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and is a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. She is a native of Old Bridge and graduate of Old Bridge High School.

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