We have tools to help avert a dreaded ‘twindemic’

News last week that Indiana recorded its first flu death even before the start of the official flu season came as health officials are warning of a potential “twindemic” — breakouts of seasonal flu coupled with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

This new word, twindemic, is as dreadful as it is sadly predictable. The good news, though, is we have it in our power to limit it.

We’re entering the cold-weather influenza season, and unrelenting COVID-19 cases have continued to put unacceptably high numbers of Hoosiers in the hospital. In Bartholomew County alone last week, 40 people were hospitalized with COVID at Columbus Regional Health, ranging in age from a child to people over 80. By Sunday, the number of patients in the hospital had fallen to 25, but the concern is that number could go back up come cold weather.

As the strain COVID has put on healthcare continues, local officials say they’re afraid of what may happen if flu sweeps through the community and there are still large numbers of coronavirus patients in the hospital. As of Sunday, there were 1,577 COVID patients in Indiana hospitals. Every one of those patients requires a huge commitment of resources.

Indiana surpassed 1 million total positive COVID cases last week, the Department of Health reported. More than 15,770 Hoosiers have died since the first case was reported in the state 19 months ago.

Like a broken record, public health officials keep saying that the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths have been among the unvaccinated. This bears repeating, and repeating, until more people get the message and get their shots. Consider this: Among the more than 3.325 million Hoosiers who’ve been vaccinated, the Indiana Department of Health says there have been just 1,042 “breakthrough” cases of COVID that required hospitalization. That’s 0.03%. To put it another way, vaccines thus far have been 99.7% effective in preventing severe cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 63.6 percent of eligible people in Bartholomew County have been fully vaccinated against COVID. That number keeps rising, but health experts say at least 75 percent of people need to be inoculated before we can start talking about herd immunity.

Health officials encourage Hoosiers to get a flu shot to offer the best possible protection, and every person who is able to should be vaccinated against COVID. Further, more people likely soon will be eligible for booster shots. If you have a booster available to you, get one to protect yourself, your family and friends.

Getting more people vaccinated is the best way to forestall a twindemic. Getting a flu shot will offer protection against the flu strains the CDC believes are likeliest to spread this season. The CDC says you can get a flu shot and a COVID vaccine or booster at the same time.

Meantime, the age-old rules apply for flu season: Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze. Stay home if you feel sick. Wash your hands. Avoid spreading germs by touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Good advice. A needle and common sense are the best tools we have to make sure “twindemic” becomes a word we can forget.