EDITORIAL: Hit me with your best shot

THERE’S A VACCINE that’s safe, works pretty well and there’s enough of it to go around. It’s the flu vaccine and the CDC recommends almost everyone who’s older than six months should get one.

There’s no evidence it will have any effect on Covid-19, except that it’s possible some unfortunate people could come down with both flu and Covid-19 at the same time. Those two viral illnesses together could make someone very sick. But flu alone is bad enough to convince reasonable people that a flu shot is a good idea. The 1918 flu pandemic killed millions worldwide.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, usually referred to as CDC, has surveillance networks that track how widespread the flu is each year and how effective vaccines are at preventing or moderating the impact of flu around the country. The effectiveness varies from year to year; flu vaccines don’t provide 100% immunity and often are far from it. But vaccines do improve the odds. Get a shot and you might avoid the flu completely. Or you might get a milder case. And when enough people get vaccinated, it means that if the flu makes you so sick you need hospitalization, there will be a bed available. That’s because other people are staying healthy.

In Columbia County you can get a flu shot at drugstores and supermarkets on a walk-in basis. Walmart, PriceChopper, Hannaford’s and ShopRite offer them. The county Department of Health still has a few more flu shot clinics scheduled at various sites around the county this fall, but you have to make an appointment. Call the department at 518-828-3358 or visit www.columbiacountynyhealth.com . Shots provided by the county cost $42 if your insurance doesn’t cover them. If that’s too much, there is assistance available. Ask the health department for help. It’s important.

It’s become routine too. When the CDC detects a threat to the health of the nation, it triggers actions that can protect us. We expect this from government. The CDC oversees the science and develops public health policy that’s carried out by state governments and individual communities. That happens with the flu and it’s no big deal. So why hasn’t the same thing happened with Covid-19?

The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is new. We know much more about the flu than about this latest illness. But this country has faced similar threats. (Think of the 2013 Ebola outbreak in Africa.) With Covid, we know China hid the seriousness of the outbreak, though the secret didn’t last long. Now, more than nine months later, we don’t have enough protective equipment let alone a vaccine.

We will have one, though CDC scientists and others say that delivery of a vaccine that works and that the public trusts will take months longer than the president has predicted… if we’re lucky. It’s anybody’s guess where our county will be on the vaccine distribution list.

A Covid-19 vaccine offers no miracle cure regardless of when it arrives. That leaves all of us with the individual responsibility for limiting the spread of the virus by wearing masks and observing social distancing as the CDC recommends. The president, who has been dismissive of masks, pulled a mask from his pocket during Tuesday’s presidential candidate debate. He used it as a prop not a tool.

He treats the CDC that way too. When CDC physicians were invited to the White House, some bare-faced and some defiantly masked, their presence served notice that the president accepts the laws of nature when it serves his needs. When it does not, science ends up in his cauldron of fake news.

Distortions of the truth disrupt our sense of time. The candidates’ first debate is now old as well as fake. Mask stories? Ancient. New this week was a New York Times story on White House officials who changed CDC advice on when to open schools. The White House version plays down the risks that students face returning to classrooms.

It’s hard to imagine what will be left of the CDC when the president is done with it. Possibly a government-run business like the Postal Service or maybe outsourced to a hedge fund or Amazon.

But for the moment there’s still value in what the CDC has to say—except maybe about Covid-19. Go get your flu shot while you can.

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