PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Flu season during a coronavirus pandemic has doctors at UPMC on guard. They’ve mass vaccinated employees against the flu in record time — a matter of days.
“Usually, we don’t reach near 100 percent vaccination for flu among our health care workers for seven to eight weeks,” says Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh.
As for whether the coronavirus is spread by droplets or smaller airborne particles?
“The virus may be transmitted by both mechanisms,” says Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC.
To minimize the risk of infection, along with masks, staff members are instructed to use eyewear. And UPMC urges the public to get flu shots, too.
“UPMC is particularly concerned about one special population, the elderly. Over 90 percent of annual flu deaths occur in people 65 and older, the same group that is most vulnerable to COVID-19,” says Dr. David A. Nace, chief medical officer at UPMC Senior Communities. “If you’re young and healthy, getting the flu vaccine is important to protect your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.”
To conserve resources, UPMC will only be testing symptomatic people for COVID-19. An accessible vaccine may not come about quickly or be the reset button some people expect.
“I know we are all hoping for a COVID vaccine to become widely available before the end of the year. This is simply not going to happen. And when it is ready, the vaccine is unlikely to work as well in the very people who need that protection — the frail and older adults — than in the younger population,” Dr. Nace says. “Recent polls have indicated that many Americans, if not more than half, may actually decline the first generation COVID-19 vaccine, making it much more problematic in protecting the elderly and the rest of us.”
But we have the next best thing — a mask.
“This is your best protection. This is the mask that you should be wearing, because this, whether you were young or old, this is your current vaccine.” Dr. Nace said.
Dr. Nace says masks have reduced the severity of the infection. He says with universal masking in UPMC’s senior care facilities, cases there have been asymptomatic or only mildly symptomatic.