Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — October 13, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

381. Experts warn it’s that time of year to get a flu shot

         QWill it be like last year when few people came down with the flu?

         A:  Probably not.  Last year, as the pandemic was surging and before vaccines were available, the public was getting used to mitigation measures including lockdowns, wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing.  An unexpected benefit of these measures was that the seasonal flu was also constrained.  The number of flu cases in the 2020-2021 season was the lowest in the last 23 years.  Like Covid-19, influenza is a respiratory infection transmitted through the air.  This year, with many states loosening their mitigation measures for Covid, the flu is easier to pass along.  “This year we are guaranteed to have the flu, and we are going to have some version of a ‘twindemic,’” said William Schaffner, MD, the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.  “It could really further strain an already extraordinarily stretched, tired-to-the-bone health care system.”

Clarification of several concerns about flu have been offered by infection control experts:

  • Everyone over the age of 6 months, with a few exceptions, should get the flu shot.
  • The flu runs from October through May. Now is the time to be vaccinated.
  • It takes about 2 weeks after getting a flu shot before immunity is established.
  • Both the Covid-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine are needed to avoid this “twindemic.”
  • You can get both vaccines at the same time.
  • Children and pregnant women should get the flu vaccine.
  • Immunity is transferred through the placenta to the unborn child.
  • Antibiotics are not effective against either Covid-19 or seasonal influenza.

Dr. Schaffner stated the coronavirus and influenza viruses causing illness have one thing in common: “We can’t shut it off like a light switch.  But we can dim it.”

382. More than 120,000 American children lost a parent or caregiver to Covid-19

         Q: How many American children have lost a parent due to the pandemic?

         A:  Last Thursday, the medical journal Pediatrics published a study that found the number of U.S. children orphaned may be larger than previously estimated, and that the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans.  One of the study’s authors, Alexandra Blenkinsop, MD, of Imperial College London said in a recent statement, “These findings really highlight those children who have been left most vulnerable by the pandemic.”  During 15 months of the nearly 19-month Covid-19 pandemic, more than 120,000 U.S. children lost a parent or grandparent who was a primary provider of financial support and care, the study found.  Another 22,000 children experienced the death of a secondary caregiver.  Researchers estimate the Covid-19 drove a 15% increase in orphaned children, many requiring foster care.  About 32% of all kids who lost a primary caregiver were Hispanic, and 26% were Black.  Hispanic and Black Americans make up much smaller percentages of the population than that.  White children accounted for 35% of kids who lost primary caregivers, even though more than half of the population is white.

383. Other nations are dealing with vaccine mandates in similar ways.

         Q:  Are other countries mandating Covid-19 vaccines like we are?

         A:  Reuters News Service last week published a summary of how several other countries are requiring their citizens to be vaccinated.  In the past, nearly everyone accepted the premise of public health – that the inconvenience for some taking mitigation steps against infectious disease was valued as a protection of the community – the public health.  The Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S. saw an emerging counter to that premise by large numbers of people agitating, demonstrating, even taking violent action to “preserve their personal freedom,” and refusing getting their shots.  It turns out that many other nations are facing similar opposition, requiring alternative steps to achieve an effective level of immunity in the population.

Countries that have mandated vaccinations:

  • For everyone (over age 18) – Indonesia, Micronesia, Turkmenistan.
  • For all workers, or workers in companies over an identified number of employees – Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United States.
  • For all healthcare workers – Britain, France, Greece, Hungary.
  • For all nationally/federally employed persons – Canada, Costa Rica, Fiji, United States.
  • For workers and passengers on planes, trains and marine transportation – Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey.
  • For those caring for the elderly – Australia, Tasmania.
  • For patrons entering restaurants, cinemas and other venues – Britain. Canada, Greece, Lebanon, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland.
  • For school teachers, staff and/or students – Turkey.

For some of these categories, the United States is encouraging state and local jurisdictions, such as school boards corporations and community officials to create the mandates.  The diversity of effort internationally requires anyone traveling to a foreign country to check ahead of time to determine the current requirements for visitors.

384. Over 5,000 college students in Connecticut do not have to be vaccinated.

        Q:  How many Connecticut college students have been granted non-medical exemptions?

        A:  The Hartford Courant published an article this last Sunday that reported that 15% of the 37,116 students currently enrolled at Connecticut community colleges have received non-medical exemptions from being vaccinated.  These 5,479 students are all eligible for receiving a vaccination and have no medical condition preventing this.  But they do not have to get their shots.  The form the students were required to fill out before registering asked simply if they preferred to receive a medical or non-medical exemption.  No explanation was given as to limitations or definitions of a non-medical exemption.  Those not wanting a vaccine, or just not wanting to exert the effort to get one, were thus able to be excused.  Of course, this reduces the number of vaccinated people in the state and increases the risk to others who aren’t vaccinated, and for “breakout” infections to those who are.  Leadership is working to educate the non-medically exempt people to encourage them to get vaccinated anyway.  A review of this process may lead to a revision this winter as the second-semester registrations begin.

385. Iranians turn to Black Market for vaccines as Covid-19 deaths spiral upward.

         Q:  Are there countries that are not getting enough vaccine doses to meet their demand?

         A:  One interesting case study is worth reviewing.  In January, 2021, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suddenly announced that foreign-made Covid-19 vaccines were “forbidden” as they were “completely untrustworthy.”  Nine months later, the country is suffering its greatest surge and a record number of deaths per day.  The nation’s healthcare system is near collapse.  Patients are told to stay home if they became ill. And “do what they can to not get exposed,” said one hospital physician in Tehran.  The scale of the crisis is such that doctors feel they have no choice but to speak out about it openly.  This is a regime that ordinarily does not tolerate dissent.

Since the early days of the pandemic, Iranian officials have declined to cooperate with the World Health Organization.  Added to this are the crippling sanctions levied against Iran that have starved the nation’s healthcare system of resources.  As a result, foreign transactions with Europe and other countries are hampered.  With less than 5% of its 80 million population fully vaccinated, Covid-19 has been surging rapidly out of control.  In August, Khamenei partly reversed his mandate, although he still forbids vaccines produced by the United States and the United Kingdom.  This opened up a lucrative and corrupt black market for vaccines that are only affordable to the well-off.  The drugs can cost the equivalent of $400 – $1,200 per dose (when the average monthly salary is between $150 – $250).

A “corrupt medical mafia” has emerged as the country is dealing with a “scarcity of everything.”  Many lay blame at the foot of the repressive national government, but with its aggressive reaction to dissent, there is little that can be done as the pandemic rages out of control.