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Commentary

Easing Patient Concerns With Education Initiatives as the COVID-19 Virus and Annual Influenza Season Intersect


November 17, 2020

By: Yvette C Terrie, BS Pharm, RPh, Consultant Pharmacist

Life has been challenging and stressful to some degree for everyone since the start of the ongoing pandemic and the anxiety and fear of many individuals continue to rise as we embark on the start of the annual cold and influenza season during a pandemic.  According to a recent publication in Scientific American, the greatest fear for many patients and health care workers is the outbreak of a so called, “twindemic” in which a second spike in COVID-19 cases and surge of influenza cases intersect.1  Additionally, many are also experiencing pandemic fatigue which adds to the ongoing stress and anxiety that many have reported. While there is promising clinical data regarding COVID-19 vaccines under investigation, there is still much uncertainty about these vaccines and when they will become available is not yet known. In the meantime, health care providers including pharmacists should always encourage patients to continue implementing preventative measures into their daily routines such as regular handwashing throughout the day, wearing protective masks and social distancing. The good news is that the precautions taken to reduce the transmission of the COVID -19 virus can also diminish the spread of the influenza virus. Pharmacists can also provide patients with key information from reliable sources and encourage patients to take an active role in their overall health by maintaining routine health care and adhering to treatment plans including being compliant to any prescribed medications for any other medical conditions they may have.  

As frontline health care providers, pharmacists are in a pivotal position to identify and address patient concerns about the upcoming influenza virus season and available influenza vaccines. Right now even though there is still a great deal of uncertainty, one of the most powerful tools that we can utilize is patient education. Patient education provides patients with pertinent information which enables them to make informed decisions about their health and encourages them to be proactive about their health. Patient education initiatives across the country are urging individuals to get the annual influenza vaccine, especially this year as the ongoing pandemic continues. The CDC indicates that during the COVID-19 pandemic, diminishing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses is vital to protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe illness, the health care system, and other critical infrastructure and therefore encourages influenza vaccines for all individuals 6 months of age and older.2 Pharmacists can be a key source of information to ease patient fears by providing them with pertinent clinical information about the prevention, management and treatment for the influenza virus. Moreover, they can be instrumental in dispelling many of the myths and misconceptions associated with vaccines that often deter some individuals including those patients at greater risk for influenza related complications from getting vaccines. Pharmacists can also be influential in augmenting influenza vaccination rates as a patient educator and patient advocate and as vaccine administrator. Promising news is that influenza vaccine rates and the demand for influenza vaccines have increased this year as indicated by reports from various retail chain drugstores.3 They can also be helpful in recommending the various types of influenza vaccines for certain age groups such as the high dose vaccines for those 65 years and older and by ensuring that patients are up to date with all the recommended vaccines for various age groups. A valuable resource that health care providers can use is entitled: Interim Guidance for Routine and Influenza Immunization Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic which is listed on the CDC website @ https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pandemic-guidance/index.html .

As of November 12, 2020, in the U.S., the number of reported COVID-19 cases was 10,772,286 with 6,665,717 of those cases reported as recovered.4 Everyday health experts learn more and more about COVID-19 and hopefully one day a safe and effective vaccine will be available. Until then we must all do our part to protect others and ourselves.4 While a lot is still out of control during the ongoing pandemic, we can relay the following messages to our patients including continuing to employ preventative measures to curb the transmission of the COVID-19 virus and obtaining the annual influenza vaccine. As we all learn more and more about this novel virus, it is vital that pharmacists remind patients to always seek guidance from their primary health care provider about the best measures to manage mild COVID-19 and influenza symptoms and to immediately seek medical care for concerning or severe symptoms.  Increasing awareness about the importance of getting the influenza vaccine is paramount especially this year and we must seize every opportunity to remind patients about this critical issue. On November 6, 2020, the CDC announced the launch of a new campaign called No One Has Time for Flu. The campaign is the result of a collaboration between the Ad Council, the American Medical Association (AMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the CDC Foundation, which along with AMA provided campaign funding.5  So let’s do what we can to decrease the transmission of the influenza virus as we all continue to live during this challenging COVID-19 pandemic. Together is the only way we will get through this influenza season and a pandemic.

Yvette C. Terrie, Consultant Pharmacist, Medical Writer and creator of A Pharmacist’s Perspective (https://apharmacistsperspective.blogspot.com/).

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