This opinion piece appeared in The Detroit News. Read more from Dr. Rudolph Valentini here.
For the first time in years, families across the state are gathering for the holidays with a familiar sense of ease. Yet, despite the tremendous gains we’ve made in the three end-of-year holiday seasons since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, we’re facing a public health risk that some experts are beginning to refer to as the ‘tripledemic’.
With the COVID-19 pandemic came heightened safety precautions around the holiday season, like mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing. Now that many of those safety measures have eased, COVID, coupled with respiratory illnesses such as RSV and flu are coming back with a vengeance this year, threatening to disrupt our holiday plans and already marking the worst flu season we’ve seen in more than 13 years.
Respiratory syncytial virus, more commonly known as RSV, is a common respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms which can lead to bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs). RSV can be extremely dangerous, especially for infants, and has already resulted in one Michigan pediatric fatality this year.
There is not yet a vaccine for RSV, so as the flu and other respiratory illnesses continue to circulate, it is imperative that Michigan families get their COVID and flu vaccinations and protect against outbreaks of these preventable diseases. Not only will this help reduce illness, but this is vital to ensuring that our already full hospital beds can be made available for our most vulnerable community members.
Recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that over three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds are currently in use throughout the nation already in the first month of the season. Children under 5 are being admitted into the hospital due to respiratory illnesses more than any other age group this season. The surge in pediatric hospitalizations is coming months sooner than recent years, putting additional stress on our already stretched healthcare system as the number of patients exceeds the number of available hospital beds.
The solution to this problem is simple — everyone who can be vaccinated, must do so.
Vaccination is the single best tool we have available to prevent serious illness from these diseases and more. We know that when someone is vaccinated and practices good hygiene such as hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes and avoiding close contact with others, they are dramatically less likely to become severely ill.
As a pediatric specialist myself who cares for many immunocompromised patients, I can tell you firsthand that these diseases are not worth the risk of not getting a vaccine. Parents and family members should talk to their doctor about their questions, or visit a credible source such as IVaccinate.org for answers.
I’ve seen too many of our youngest patients become hospitalized and fight for each breath as these diseases have swept through our communities. The holiday season is meant to be a time filled with family, friends and happiness. I can assure you that a prolonged hospital stay or watching a loved one fight a severe illness is not the gift we want to give.
It is up to everyone in our communities to combat these severe respiratory illnesses and increase immunity in our community. By getting vaccinated, staying home when sick and protecting ourselves and our loved ones, we can all prevent the spread of germs, outbreak of illness and a further surge in hospitalizations.
Please don’t put off your vaccines any longer. Make an appointment with your doctor today to get your flu vaccine and COVID vaccine or booster, to protect yourself and your loved ones this holiday season. You can also visit Vaccines.gov to find a location near you for your flu and COVID vaccines.
Dr. Rudolph P. Valentini is chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and group chief medical officer at Detroit Medical Center.