NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — An American Heart Association (AHA) study released in October concerns physicians as it shows hesitancy towards the flu shot due to controversy around the coronavirus vaccine and mis-information.
"We've all been traumatized a little bit by COVID. But we shouldn't ignore the regular things like flu vaccine that we know that can keep us healthy," explained Vanderbilt Health Vascular Medicine Director and Cardiologist Dr. Josh Beckman.
The AHA study showed that 3 in 5 (60%) of Americans say they will delay or skip their flu shot altogether this year.
"I had the conversation this morning with a few patients who said, ‘Do I really need the flu shot? It didn't seem like it was around this year,’" said Beckman, "And I told them that, well, you know, 'We're going to be wearing masks less. And that when in other countries, they stopped wearing masks, the flu came roaring back. And in fact, I'm a little bit worried it could be worse this year because we don't really have the same level of protection as we did a year ago and people are worried about a vaccine in a different way than they were a year ago.'"
Beckman explained the amount of conversation around the COVID vaccine is having a detrimental affect on the number of flu shot that have been administered.
"It's really interesting to me that we've had a lot of conversations about vaccines that are beginning to bleed into other conditions for vaccines," said Beckman. "We have been talking about things that have been routine in our existence for decades, kids vaccines, flu vaccines, I don't ever remember having this number of conversations with anybody about it. And I think the thoughts about COVID vaccines in either direction, as people make their own choice, have made or have influenced in an important way, how we think about the regular stuff."
Dr. Beckman is also the American Heart Association Joint Committee on Guidelines Chair Elect, "When you have coronary artery disease, heart disease, or anything that's associated with the heart, like heart failure, having a really severe infection can make it a higher risk that you're going to have something like another heart attack or pass away. So we were pretty aggressive and giving flu shots."
The AHA study also pointed out that 57% of Hispanic respondents said COVID impacted their decision about their own flu vaccine.
Brian Haile, the CEO of Neighborhood Health in Nashville, said the pandemic paved the way for his clinics to better serve hard-to-reach communities, including some in the Hispanic community as they tried to make both information for and the actual COVID vaccine more accessible.
"We had to put a transportation plan in place, that was new, that took into account the fact that people might be infected if they needed to get tested. It took into account that people, especially early in the time when we were vaccinating people who were 70 and older might have mobility issues. We had to take all of those complex variables into account. And we did that quickly with really good partners," explained Haile.
He said other challenges included language barriers and other logistics.
"We've got to be serious about this and sustain these gains, even as we grow and do more work to make sure that people not only get vaccinated for COVID, but that we're serious about vaccinating people for flu and pneumonia, as well," he said.
Neighborhood Health offers medical care for anyone, even if someone does not have insurance.
"It's a very diverse population that walks through the door and we're prepared to see everyone. So we want to lower language barriers, but it doesn't stop with just language barriers. We make sure that if you need a ride to get to and from the clinic that we'd make that available for free. All you need to do is call and if you have a barrier, we'll figure out a solution, we're not going to let something stand in the way of you and getting preventive health care," explained Haile.
"We've got to catch up because we're off to a slow start nationally with flu vaccinations. At the same time, we probably have more infrastructure and partnerships working together now to make up that ground, and then some. So, I'm optimistic about where we're going to end up, but we've got to remain vigilant, focused and committed to reaching the goal of getting really high vaccination numbers for COVID [and] for flu," said Haile.
To learn more about Neighborhood Health, click here or call 615-227-3000.