By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Working to get ahead of what is expected to be a severe flu and Covid-19 season, the state has started a campaign to encourage Kentuckians to get vaccinated against both viruses.
The effort is part of a million-dollar partnership between the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Funding for it came from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation, said the campaign messages were developed from insights gained from polls, focus groups and surveys of more than 1,100 Kentuckians from a wide variety of backgrounds.
“Our goal is to educate and encourage Kentuckians to keep their guard up this flu and Covid season and get their Covid-19 vaccines and boosters as well as their flu shots,” Chandler said at a press conference.
The hope of the campaign is that Kentuckians will learn information and then talk to their health-care provider about it.
“It’s clear Kentuckians want to have a conversation with their own health-care provider to talk about their own individual risk and their family’s risks, and then make a decision for themselves,” he said.
The campaign includes videos, graphics, fact sheets and other resources that will be released over the next four months. The resources are free to anyone who works to help educate Kentuckians about the importance of these vaccines and can be found at healthy-ky.org
Chandler said one of the main concerns is that Kentuckians questioned whether getting the Covid-19 vaccine and boosters are necessary, since they don’t always prevent you from getting sick or spreading the virus.
He pointed to research showing that staying up to date with Covid-19 vaccines and boosters is the best way to avoid severe illness, hospitalizations and death.
Kentucky data shows that a person with a booster has a 12.9 times lower risk of dying from Covid-19 than someone who has not been vaccinated, Chandler noted.
Also, he said nearly 450,000 Kentuckians have had “long Covid” and one study found that vaccinated people were 50% less likely to develop this syndrome. Another study found the vaccinated were 41% less likely to report lingering symptoms of the disease.
“This is not to scare folks, but to remind them that there are still real consequences from contracting Covid,” Chandler said.
State Health Secretary Eric Friedlander encouraged Kentuckians to keep up the “good habits” that have decreased the spread of the coronavirus and the flu over the last few years, including social distancing, hand hygiene, wearing masks in indoor spaces and staying home if you are sick. He also encouraged Kentuckians to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and the flu.
“It looks like it’s going to be a tough flu season,” he said. “From what we see in the southern hemisphere, [which] is where it starts and it comes up here, it’s going to be a challenge. And we really haven’t had a flu season in the last couple of years.”
An news release
from Rutgers University
noted that as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, flu cases are expected to rise, making it especially important for people to get vaccinated to prevent the nation’s health-care system from being overwhelmed by influenza and the pandemic.
That scenario already played out in Kentucky when the easing of Covid-19 restrictions caused an uptick in flu cases in March and April 2022, the first time that the flu peaked that late in the season since 1982,according to the foundation news release.
Nationwide, the release says, “The CDC’s preliminary figures
from last season show 8 million to 13 million flu illnesses, 82,000 to 170,000 flu hospitalizations and 5,000 to 14,000 flu deaths. However, as precautions loosen, we are seeing rates rise. Pediatric deaths, for example, rose from one death in the 2020–2021 season to 33 this past season. In comparison, 199 children
died from influenza in the 2019-20 flu season.”
State Health Commissioner Steven Stack spoke on a video at the governor’s weekly press conference about the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19 and the flu.
“If you go in and get yourself protected against both of those illnesses at the same time, you will help keep yourself safe, your family and loved ones safe, you’ll help keep al of us safe,” he said.
And for those who are still worried taking a Covid-19 vaccine, Stack pointed out that more than 612 million doses have been given in the U.S. “They’re well proven, very highly safe and very, very effective and well-tolerated,” he said.
Further, Stack noted that the new booster that protects against the original virus and major Omicron variants has been updated using the technology that has been used all along, just as flu shots are updated each year.
Everyone 6 months and older can be vaccinated for Covid-19 and the flu. Covid-19 boosters have been approved for people 12 and older and are available two months after a person has received their primary Covid-19 vaccine doses or two months after their last booster dose. Flu and Covid shots can be taken on the same day.
Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health
, announced at the news conference that her organization will be expanding its “boots on the ground network” over the next two years to support communities facing barriers to vaccination and other basic needs.
“The next phase of this will be to launch an ambassador program in 2023 to equip folks with the training and the tools that they need to do this work on the ground in their communities, because another thing that we’ve learned is that people want to get information and help from someone they know and trust,” she said.
Beauregard also pointed to the foundation’s poll that found more than one in three unvaccinated Kentuckians are still open to getting the Covid-19 vaccination.
“If we were to get every one of those Kentuckians vaccinated, that would be half a million people and could get us really close to herd immunity,” she said. “It’s a goal that I think we can reach.”
The state Department for Public Health
, in coordination with state and local partners like KVH, has also launched a new toolkit for flu and Covid-19 vaccinations
that provides a variety of resources, including printable informational materials and easy to access links for the latest information and vaccine guidance.