Navigating the Changing Care Environment of COVID-19 and Beyond
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With fall fast approaching, it’s time to think to start thinking about getting an annual flu shot. This year, the decision on whether to get the shot or not is compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the highly contagious delta variant that is filling ICU units with patients across the country.
When talking with her adult patients about their health and well-being, Dr. Whitaker emphasizes the importance vaccines play in keeping them free from serious illnesses and protecting their loved ones as well.
“Every adult should be getting the COVID-19 vaccine, whether or not they have underlying medical conditions,” Dr. Whitaker says. “In fact, if you have underlying conditions, that makes you more prone to getting severe disease and being hospitalized.”
Patients currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in Orange County are overwhelmingly unvaccinated, she says. As the risks from the vaccine are low and side effects are minimal, it is extremely important for patients to consider getting vaccinated against the virus.
“While there’s always a chance of adverse reaction with the vaccine, the benefits far outweigh any risks,” Dr. Whitaker says. “My message is to have a discussion with your physician about the medical risks involved if you decide you don’t want to get vaccinated. And if you don’t want to get vaccinated, make sure you’re taking other precautions like social distancing, masking and handwashing.”
People who have had COVID-19 should not think they’re immune to reinfection, she adds. “Antibodies eventually diminish over time, so it’s recommended that you get a vaccine to boost your immunity.”
Other adult vaccines
There are other vaccinations important for adults that should not be ignored, says Dr. Whitaker. High on that list is the shingles vaccine, which is a one-time, two-dose series recommended at age 50.
“Shingles is the reactivation of chickenpox,” Dr. Whitaker says. “So, if you had chickenpox as a child, you never clear the virus and it can reactivate at any time. Typically, after age 50 your immunity diminishes, so that’s when you become prone to reactivation.”
Individuals who’ve already had shingles are also at risk for recurrence, and still need the vaccine as well.
Other adult vaccines include Tdap — tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), which is recommended once as an adult with a booster every 10 years — and HPV, recommended for teens and adults through age 26 to prevent genital cancers.
For patients 65 and older, the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), protects against various strains of bacteria that can cause severe respiratory infections. It is also recommended that adults 19-64 with underlying conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, receive the vaccine.
“These vaccines go with preventive care,” Dr. Whitaker explains. “It’s part of the reason annual physicals are so important, to have a good relationship with your physician. We can touch on all these things: cancer screenings, diet, exercise, vaccine status. All these things go together to help our patients stay healthy.”
Recent studies have shown about 25% of adults suffer from needle anxiety when thinking about or seeing a needle and that can be a factor in vaccine hesitancy. Dr. Whitaker admits to being one of those. “What I do, and what I recommend my patients do is to lay down and take deep breaths. It’s easier to relax when you’re laying down and makes it less likely you will faint.”
Another technique she finds helpful is to converse with her patient to distract them from the needle. “I understand because I don’t like needles. And usually, I find it’s quicker and not as bad as I thought.”
She notes that all vaccines can safely be administered without a waiting period in between shots.
Plan your physical now
With about 55% of the eligible population vaccinated in Orange County, people are beginning to schedule routine exams, tests and procedures they put off during the pandemic. “This is the time to come in,” says Lara McKenna, executive director of business and patient relations at Edinger Medical Group. “Physicians are getting back into the swing of things as everything is opening up, and people are feeling more confident because they’re vaccinated.”
McKenna notes that 98.8% of Edinger’s staff has been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and those who aren’t are not in patient-care areas. Edinger is open to patients who are asymptomatic for upper respiratory issues or true COVID-19 symptoms. Screening is done over the phone and on the day of the appointment.
“It’s important for patients to feel comfortable contacting their physician’s office to see what their policies are so they can come in if they’re troubled by anything other than COVID symptoms or they’ve been waiting to have procedures done,” McKenna says. “If it’s clinic, if it’s emergency-room care or if it’s testing, we can help navigate those things for you. We don’t just help Edinger patients; we try to help anyone who is looking for direction.”