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Why immunizations and vaccines are more important than ever in 2020

By:

Korey Karnes Huyler for Greater Baltimore Medical Center

October 1, 2020
This year, more than in years past, it’s important to get the flu vaccine, says Dr. Gregory Small, a primary care physician at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

“While many of the protective measures such as wearing a face mask, limiting indoor gatherings and promoting social distancing are to reduce COVID-19 transmission, these measures will also serve as a benefit to reduce the transmission of influenza,” he says. “Vaccination may be more important this year as symptoms of influenza will overlap with the symptoms of COVID-19, making these clinical presentations difficult to decipher.”

WHY ARE VACCINES SO IMPORTANT? “It’s important to receive a yearly flu vaccine to protect ourselves and others from influenza,” says Dr. Small. “While the severity of the influenza illness may vary by year, it’s critical to provide flu vaccinations in advance, particularly to help protect our most vulnerable — the elderly or very young. Besides the groups that are higher risk by age, other chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma can leave a patient at any age with a higher risk of complications from influenza.”

Dr. Joseph Fuscaldo, an internal medicine physician at GBMC, says people with the aforementioned chronic conditions should also receive the pneumonia vaccine.

“All of us should make sure to receive all the appropriate available respiratory vaccines to minimize risk with COVID-19 still lurking as a possibility,” Dr. Fuscaldo says. ”The flu and pneumococcal pneumonia both may share symptoms with COVID-19, so already having those vaccines can help doctors efficiently diagnose what is going on when we start feeling ill.”

Should we contract COVID-19, we will want our lungs and airways to be as fit as possible. By keeping ourselves safe from a respiratory illness like the flu or pneumonia through vaccination, we are preserving the strength of our lung defense.

PRIMARY CARE PATIENTS “Patients with a GBMC Health Partners primary care provider or specialist have several options for receiving their 2020-2021 flu season vaccination,” Dr. Small explains. “If a patient has an appointment scheduled with their primary care provider, they will be offered their flu vaccine at the time of their appointment.”

In addition, GBMC constructed a drive-thru structure at Farmhouse Hill on its campus that administers flu vaccinations for patients of GBMC Health Partners practices. (Note: The patient’s primary care office assists with scheduling the patient for this centralized flu vaccine drive-thru. During this appointment, patients will remain in their vehicles while receiving the vaccination.)

IN-HOSPITAL TREATMENT When patients check in to the hospital, the admitting nurse will ask if they want to receive a flu shot, according to Dr. Fuscaldo. There is the standard flu vaccine for patients 18 to 64 and the high-dose vaccine, commonly referred to as a “senior dose,” designed for patients 65 years and older.

“The high-dose flu shot was developed a couple of years ago for the elderly population,” explains Dr. Fuscaldo. “It’s basically the same vaccine as the standard one, but a more concentrated version for older people, whose immune systems sometimes need a little more help. We want to make sure that when older people get the shot, there’s enough immunity to protect them from the virus.”

Dr. Fuscaldo says that over the past few years, Americans have become a bit more receptive to getting vaccines. "This is important because even without symptoms, people can potentially transmit infections to someone else,” he says. “All of the staff at GBMC Hospital and Health Partners are required to get influenza vaccines every year for this exact reason.”

For more information about vaccines and immunization at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, visit www.gbmc.org/flu.
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