Several pharmacy groups, including Walmart, Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS Health, and Rite Aid, have reported that they’ve given millions more flu shots this year than in previous years. This is good news in the midst of the ever-growing pandemic. The flu is responsible for about 60,000 deaths per year in the United States alone.
Health officials have been encouraging Americans for the past several months to get inoculated against the flu in hopes of preventing a “twindemic.” This means the number of cases of the seasonal flu and novel coronavirus overwhelms hospitals. It seems as if the public has heard the message. However, instead of going to their doctor to receive the shot or getting it at work, many people are choosing to go to their local pharmacy. Flu shots are usually covered by most commercial insurance companies and government health plans. If neither of these is an option for you, it costs about $40 out-of-pocket.
Despite the increase in demand, the pharmacies haven’t seen a shortage in the vaccine’s availability. Pharmacies were prepared thanks to several different surveys. A Reuters poll conducted earlier this year indicated 60% of Americans planning on getting a flu shot, which was up by 10% compared to a typical year. In a CVS poll, respondents said they were going to get their shot at a pharmacy. By having this information, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, and CSL’s Seqirus, which manufacture flu shots used in the US, upped their production somewhere between 10-20%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of flu shots available this year is close to 198 million, which is significantly higher than last year’s 175 million.
As far as the coronavirus vaccine front, a new Gallup poll shows that the percentage of Americans who say they’ll get the new vaccine when it’s available has gone up to 58% from 50%. The survey was done just before early trial results for two vaccines were released. Experts say the increase is most likely due to the surge in cases we’re now seeing. Of the 42% who said they wouldn’t get the vaccine, 37% felt the development was rushed, 26% want its safety to be confirmed before they take it, and 12% don’t normally trust vaccines.
Moderna announced that its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective and Pfizer said its vaccine is 90% effective. Most public health experts said these results were extraordinary and are optimistic that they, along with other public health measures, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, the pandemic might be controlled. Both companies are now seeking emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If granted, the first round of vaccines could be available for those in high-risk groups, like the elderly and healthcare workers, by the end of the year.
While this is definitely good news, the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to climb each day. As a result, you’ve probably heard the terms “percent positive,” “test positivity rate,” or “positivity rate” a lot. These are interchangeable terms that mean the same thing. What is it, though?
If your area’s positivity rate is 60%, it doesn’t mean that 60% of the population has COVID-19. It indicates that 60% of the people who got tested have the virus. It’s important to realize that not everyone who has the disease gets tested. Also, individuals sometimes get more than one test, which can impact the total numbers. There are multiple ways to figure out the positivity rate, but the CDC takes the number of positive tests divided by the total number of tests and multiply the answer by 100 to get a percentage.
Most public health experts agree that the actual number of cases in an area is usually higher than the positivity rate. They say that it’s just one of many tools they use to gauge the spread of the virus. When the numbers start to climb, officials know they need to start implementing measures to reduce the spread. When the numbers drop and stay down for a period of time, the rate of transmission is less, so some restrictions might be able to be eased.