By: Ben Chandler, President and CEO, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Holiday cheer won’t be the only thing spreading this season. As the weather cools and people start spending more time inside where viruses can easily spread, the risks of illness are high. This winter, public health officials expect heavy traffic in urgent and primary care offices, increased hospitalizations, and more Kentuckians’ suffering from the long-term effects of COVID-19.
More than two dozen school districts across the commonwealth have closed or moved to remote learning due to “widespread illness” already this November. Kentucky families are dealing with flu, RSV, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. While most healthy people may bounce back in a few days or weeks, older people and those with compromised immune systems are at risk for potential hospitalization and death.
Although new COVID-19 variants might not be as deadly, the long-term effects could be devastating. The American Academy of Physical Medicine estimates nearly a half million Kentuckians are suffering from Long COVID. Symptoms include brain fog, problems sleeping, prolonged loss of taste and smell, increased likelihood of depression, heart, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and kidney issues, as well as skin rashes and hair loss. As more research is done, we continue to discover the brutal long-term effects on people.
Now for the good news. We know that Kentuckians who are up to date on their immunizations are less likely to develop Long COVID or have severe flu. People who have received their COVID-19 vaccine and boosters are 50 percent less likely to develop Long COVID if they contract the virus. An Italian study found after a third dose of the mRNA vaccine, the odds of Long COVID fell to 16 percent.
Receiving the seasonal flu shot reduces a person’s risk of getting sick by 40 to 60 percent. That means less chance of having to go to the doctor, taking days off work, or missing family events or your kids’ activities. A 2021 study showed among adults hospitalized with flu, vaccinated patients had a 26 percent lower risk of being admitted to the ICU and a 31 percent lower risk of death from the flu.
Research shows the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as well as flu shots, are safe. While some people may have short-term side effect such as a sore arm, headache, or fatigue after receiving their vaccines, the risk of getting sick with COVID or flu without being up to date on immunizations are far greater.
COVID-19 has already taken enough from all of us. Let’s not let it ruin yet another holiday season. We encourage you to have a conversation with your doctor about getting your seasonal boosters. By doing so, you might be able to avoid long hours in crowded urgent care and emergency rooms, hospitalization, or canceled holiday plans with your loved ones.
Ben Chandler is president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on addressing the unmet health needs of Kentuckians. Learn more at Healthy-KY.org.