BenitoLink interviewed San Benito County Public Health Officer David Ghilarducci on Dec. 9 about the county’s annual flu vaccination program. He also touched upon the safety of the vaccinations, the current state of hospitals, and when residents should be expecting the COVID-19 vaccines.
BENITOLINK: How has your vaccination program been received by the public this year?
GHILARDUCCI: We have had around 675 people come through our flu clinics. Normally, we would do around 900. Of course, people can get vaccines from other places, like pharmacies or their doctors, so those are just our numbers.
Is the drop in numbers a problem?
I am discouraged by the numbers a bit because we did a big push to let people know about the availability of vaccinations. But looking at how things went in the Southern Hemisphere in their last winter season, I am a little bit optimistic that the flu season might be relatively light, because of all the masking, washing hands, and social distancing. The measures we are pushing to fight COVID also work really well for the flu.
Could you talk about the safety of the flu vaccine?
The risk of having a serious illness along with COVID-19 far outweighs any small risk posed by the flu vaccine. The vaccines have been tested in tens of thousands of patients and found to be safe—that is part of the process of approval.
Why should people be vaccinated?
Every year the flu causes a lot of pressure on our health care system—and that is in a normal year. Having flu cases pop up during the COVID-19 crisis will put even more pressure on the system and our capacity. And if you were to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, you would be much, much sicker. It will not only protect yourself but protect everyone around you.
What impact will having vaccinated residents have on the county’s hospital overload?
If we can reduce the number of people who become infected with the flu who need hospitalization, this is key. The most important way to do that is to follow the recommendations we have been advising. And vaccination will certainly help as well. We need to reduce the number of people who need to be in the hospital. Healthy people need to understand this is no joke. The last time I checked, Hazel Hawkins was full and I can tell you that the intensive care units in Santa Cruz county are 100% full.
What can we expect in the near future regarding the spread of flu and COVID-19?
We have not seen the full impact of Thanksgiving yet. Those cases are still going to be arriving, the people who chose to gather and mix with other households. If that happens again during the Christmas holidays, then we would expect January to be a very very tough month.
Are you more likely to catch the virus if you have the flu?
You certainly could. If you are in a position to contract the flu, for example, being near somebody and not wearing a mask, then you are also in a situation where you can contract COVID-19. The flu kills about 30,000 people a year—far less than COVID, but it is still a killer.
When can we expect the COVID-19 vaccine to come to San Benito County?
The first doses are expected from Pfizer next week. Our first shipment will be 349 doses.
The initial priority, following the Center for Disease Control guidelines, will be for critical care healthcare workers. They are telling us we should be expecting shipments every week and we are waiting for confirmation on that. We were also told that we would be getting the Moderna vaccine. They are saying we will be getting it a week or so after the Pfizer vaccine. We do not know how many doses to expect with each shipment.
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