COVID-19 Makes Getting a Flu Shot More Important Than Ever
By Libby Richards
With the coronavirus still spreading widely, it's time to start thinking seriously about influenza, which typically spreads in fall and winter. A major flu outbreak would not only overwhelm hospitals this fall and winter, but also likely overwhelm a person who might contract both at once.
Doctors have no way of knowing yet what the effect of a dual diagnosis might be on a person's body, but they do know the havoc that the flu alone can do to a person's body. And, we know the U.S. death toll of COVID-19 as of Aug. 17, 2020 was 170,000, and doctors are learning more each day about the effects of the disease on the body. Public health officials in the U.S. are therefore urging people to get the flu vaccine, which is already being shipped in many areas to be ready for September vaccinations.
But there's reason to be concerned that flu vaccination rates could be lower this year than in past years, even though the risk of getting seriously ill may be higher because of widespread circulation of the coronavirus.
In an effort to avoid getting sick, millions of Americans avoided seeing their health care provider the past few months. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have resulted in a decreased use of routine medical preventive services such as vaccinations. Many employers that often provide the flu shot at no cost to employees are allowing employees to work from home, potentially limiting the number of people who will get the flu shot at their jobs.
As a health care professional, I urge everyone to get the flu vaccine in September. Please do not wait for flu cases to start to peak. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness, so getting the vaccine in September will help provide the best protection as the flu increases in October and later in the season.
A Lifesaver in Previous Years, but More So Now
Both COVID-19 and the flu are contagious respiratory illness that present with similar symptoms. Both viruses can impact the elderly and those with certain chronic conditions, such as heart and lung disease, the hardest.
Data on flu vaccination rates from 2018-2019 show that only 49% of Americans six months of age and older received the flu vaccine. The vaccine's effectiveness varies each season, with early data from the 2019-2020 flu season indicating a vaccine effectiveness rate of 50% overall, and 55% in youth.
While some may think this effectiveness rate is low, the flu vaccine remains the single best way to prevent the flu and related complications. For example, during the 2018-2019 flu season, flu vaccination was estimated to prevent 4.4 million flu illnesses, 58,000 flu hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths. Early data from the 2019-2020 flu season estimates there were 39-56 million flu illnesses, 18-26 million flu-related medical visits, 410-740,000 hospitalizations and up to 62,000 deaths. Much of this disease burden is preventable from higher flu vaccination rates.
It is now quite apparent that COVID-19 will still be circulating during flu season, which makes getting a flu vaccine more important than ever. As schools, our communities and our economy continue to reopen, it is vital to get the flu vaccine for personal, family and community protection.
Severe cases of both COVID-19 and the flu require the same lifesaving medical equipment. This highlights the importance of getting the flu vaccine for not only your own personal health but also the health of your community. Receiving the flu vaccine will help reduce the burden of respiratory illness on our already very overstretched health care system. By increasing flu vaccination rates, we can reduce the overall impact of respiratory illnesses on the population and hence lower the resulting burden on the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because flu vaccination protects against one of these respiratory illnesses, the CDC recommends everyone (with few exceptions) six months of age and older get an annual flu vaccine. While the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, the flu vaccine will reduce your risk of developing the flu as well as reduce your risks of flu-related complications including hospitalization and even death.
While it may seem like there is so much out of our control during this pandemic, getting the flu vaccine, practicing proper hand washing, social distancing and wearing face coverings are within our control and will protect not only you but also your family and community.
If you are not getting the flu vaccine from your employer, think about alternative sources now. Vaccines should be available in most areas by Sept. 1.
- Call you doctor's office to ask how you can get a flu shot.
- Call your local public health department.
- Consider getting a vaccine while you are grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions.
Mainly, make sure you take advantage of this potentially lifesaving vaccine. Get it on your calendar for early September now. And remember, the flu shot cannot give you the flu.
Libby Richards is an Associate Professor of Nursing, Purdue University.
Disclosure statement: Libby Richards receives funding from the Kinley Trust Foundation and Purdue University's Center for Aging and the Life Course. She is an active member of the American Public Health Association and the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.