Only 1 in 5 people in South Carolina are vaccinated against the flu as the virus continues to fill doctors’ offices and hospitals. But with the holidays now in full swing, it’s a good time to get a shot and be protected, doctors say.
With a heavy early flu surge, the worst start to the season in a decade, only 21.2 percent of the Palmetto State’s population received their seasonal vaccination, about 1.1 million people, according to the health department and environmental control.
This includes only 14.5 percent of children and 14.9 percent of adults under the age of 65. Nearly half of seniors — 49 percent — have been vaccinated, DHEC reports. Those low rates can have consequences, especially for children, Dr. Elizabeth Mack, chief of pediatric critical care at Medical University of South Carolina, said.
“We really don’t see any kids coming into the hospital with the flu who are vaccinated,” she said.
The state generally does not follow flu vaccination during the season. But because of this season’s particularly heavy start, DHEC will begin posting the data every two weeks, state epidemiologist Linda Bell said.
“Our hope is that more South Carolinians will decide to roll up their sleeves and get their flu shot,” she said Flu levels are particularly high in Charleston County and around the Columbia, Greenville and Myrtle Beach areas, according to DHEC data.
The flu not only takes its toll on patients, but also on staff, who may be ill or take care of sick children or spouses at home, Dr. Jane Appleby, chief medical officer for Trident Health, said.
“We’ve seen flu-like illnesses affecting our families, our workforce and just the community at large,” she said.
There could be some relief, or at least a drop, in flu and COVID levels, according to an analysis by The Post and Courier. Compared to the previous week, the number of samples testing positive for the flu at the state lab fell 22.7 percent, and the number of hospitalizations fell 25.5 percent for the week ending Nov. 19, the analysis found. COVID-19 cases fell 5.2 percent from the previous week, and hospitalizations were down 14.4 percent.
In the three counties surrounding Charleston, community transmission of COVID-19 was at a moderate level, down from high or significant levels the two weeks prior, Appleby said.
“We’re not seeing as much COVID as we used to,” she said.
Nationally, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations for the week ending Nov. 18 was 23,153, a 4.4 percent decrease from the previous week. There were 2,222 deaths, a weekly drop of 5.3 percent, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
That’s unfortunately not true at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, Mack said.
“We have not seen any decrease, at least here in the Lowlands, in terms of the number of children being hospitalized,” she said on November 23. “We’ve had an increase in our COVID hospitalizations this morning. We’ve been inundated. with children with respiratory viruses.”
While some around the country are talking about a “triple epidemic” of influenza, COVID and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), children are coming in with a wide variety of others, such as parainfluenza, enterovirus and human metapneumovirus, Mack said.
“We all see too,” she said. That has caused capacity issues not just across the state but across the country in children’s hospitals, Mack said. But they find a way to provide a bed.
“We don’t count aisles as part of capacity and yet that’s what we do,” Mack said. “Sick children are not going to be turned away. We will find a place for them somewhere.”
These types of problems usually arise later in the season, as the holidays begin, people gather more and viruses take advantage.
“Especially with the Thanksgiving holiday, with people getting together to celebrate, it’s pretty easy to transmit a viral disease,” Appleby said. So if someone hasn’t received their shot, “this is the right time to do it,” she said.
And it’s never too late to get it, the doctors said.
“I vaccinate in the ICU every day,” Mack said. “It’s not too late for sure.”