Many people are also simply less interested in COVID news these days, Thomas Russo, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF. “People are now tuned out, trying to forget it and move on with their lives,” Dr. Russo says. “They don’t want to hear about COVID anymore.”
This is understandable to a certain degree, given the federal government’s messaging around the state of the pandemic. In September, President Biden said the pandemic was “over” during a 60 Minutes interview, though he later tried to backtrack and say that the (ongoing) pandemic isn’t as bad as it had previously been. To add insult to injury, the CDC’s guidance has been confusing and ever-changing: In August, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky admitted the agency failed to effectively respond to the pandemic. When so many public health officials are either muddying critical information or communicating that the risk for serious COVID outcomes is low—even though it’s not, given the numbers—it makes sense that a large swath of the public wouldn’t prioritize getting the updated vaccine.
Also worth noting: People are being called on to do more than they usually need to do to prepare for cold and flu season this year, and this, too, may be part of the problem, experts say. “It’s always a bit of a hard sell to get people to get the flu shot, and now we’re asking people to get two [vaccinations], which makes the public health effort more challenging,” Dr. Schaffner says.
But if we continue on this route, the US could be in for a tough winter, Waleed Javaid, MD, hospital epidemiologist and director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York City, tells SELF. Specifically, if a lot of people get sick at the same time, we could see disruptions in health care settings again, Dr. Javaid says. “This year, the indications are that the flu could be much worse than last year,” he says. “Hospital overcrowding can occur for a variety of reasons—COVID, flu, or both—and we don’t want to see that.” A rise in infections could mean more than a shortage of hospital beds, Dr. Russo adds. It may cause delays in emergency rooms and walk-in clinics around the country too: “It’s a toll at all levels” of the health care system, he explains.
Though it may be tempting to base your decision on whether to get boosted solely on personal risk, there’s more at stake here than any one individual’s health. Even though COVID is often billed (incorrectly) as being “like the flu” it does pose real risks, and not just to people with underlying health conditions. (Though, of course, people with underlying conditions are also…people.) Chief among these risks is long COVID, which may affect up to one in five people who contract the virus, as SELF previously reported. And even if you get infected and experience the best-case scenario here—spending a week in bed utterly exhausted, coughing and hacking—who wants to be out of commission and feeling like garbage for any amount of time?
And as we saw last winter, if there is a big spike in COVID cases, all of our day-to-day lives could be affected in some way. Another wave may once again cause disruptions in schools at every level—from day cares to colleges—and temporary or even permanent business closures.
The bottom line: Now is the time to get your COVID-19 booster (and flu shot), which will help keep you and those around you safe, Dr. Russo says. Getting boosted, if you’re eligible, truly is a civic duty, Dr. Javaid adds: “We are all in this together, and we need to think about [boosters] as community service.”
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