Throughout 2020, we’ve encountered murderous hornets, raging fires, worldwide protests, and a pandemic. I haven’t been writing for a while, and there’s a lot to discuss over the last few months. However, what we’re headed for is what’s most concerning. Coronavirus has been rampant worldwide ever since early March 2020, and possibly even earlier. Minority communities have been devastated by coronavirus, and influenza season is coming quick, I’m afraid of the travesty minority communities will face if or when the flu and coronavirus attack at once.
We are nearing flu season, and coronavirus has yet to yield, so scientists are rushing to determine all the potentials and consequences. But, as with COVID, there are still no certainties. In early March 2020, many people naïvely compared Coronavirus’ deaths to influenza’s death rate. Influenza took between 24,000-62,000 lives in 2019-2020, according to the CDC. Meanwhile, COVID-19’s deaths are nearing one million cases. “The worst-case scenario is both [the coronavirus and the flu] are spreading fast and causing severe disease, complicating diagnoses and presenting a double burden on the health care system,” says Marc Lipsitch.
There has been some whisper of a cure going around. Trump mentioned that a vaccine should be ready by late 2020 a few times. However, according to many doctors, the CDC only recommended hospitals prepare for a vaccine mostly because they wanted them to be extra prepared. And even if the vaccine were to come out by the end of this year, only the at-risk citizens and essential workers are likely to receive it. The rest of the country will most likely receive the vaccine well into mid 2021.
You probably don’t hear about this issue very often, if at all, on the news. It’s not a new issue, it’s just exacerbated because of COVID-19. The point I’m referring to is the way our country’s medical infrastructure fails our minority communities time and time again. From birth complication rates to vaccination rates, minority communities are always hit the worst. With the influenza season coming, I have the privilege to go and get my flu shot without worry. However, I worry for the lower socioeconomic, minority community, who was already hit disproportionately worse by COVID-19. Add on top of that, minorities are less likely to receive a flu vaccination. In 2018, the CDC conducted a study examining the racial disparities within vaccinations. Here’s what they found:
As you can see, the white community makes up most vaccinations in the United States, with numbers near 50%. Followed by Asian at 44%, Black at 40 %, and Hispanic at 37%. Hispanics and Blacks receive flu vaccinations around 10% less often than white people. This difference may not seem drastic but add this on top of the coronavirus rates by race. According to the CDC, per a single case of a white person with coronavirus, there are 2.6 Black cases, 2.8 Hispanic cases, and 1.1 Asian cases. As you can see, COVID-19 is raging through minority communities at more than double the white neighborhoods’ rate. And with influenza season on the way, sadly, too many lives will be threatened.
Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist at the University of Chicago, says, “it is hard to predict” the flu season’s infection rate alongside COVID-19. Cobey explains that what’s to come is incredibly unpredictable because human behavior largely determines the infection rate. While it is possible to look at other nations for reference, there is no surefire way to tell what will happen. For instance, nations in the southern hemisphere experience flu season exactly opposite of us, due to the inverted seasons. Southern hemispheric countries acquired a surplus of flu vaccines. However, they haven’t seen any spikes in flu infections.
Consider This from NPR podcast suggests this could be because of already-in-place mask-wearing regulations and social distancing. While scientists may look to this as a reference for the northern hemispheric nations, there are significant differences. The podcast pointed out that winters are milder in the southern hemisphere than in the north, which means that people spend more time indoors in northern countries, which means more contact between people.
Human behavior comes into play when trying to predict the path influenza will take. Many other countries have been taking COVID-19 much more seriously than here in the United States, and Americans are much less likely to socially distance or wear masks. Therefore, there is no reason the flu will hit any less than it does every other year or worse. Scientists are hopeful for a vaccine come at the end of 2020, and while it may only reach the elderly and at-risk citizens, we’re going to need anything we can get if flu season and coronavirus team-up.
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