Only 1 in 5 people in South Carolina has been vaccinated against the flu as the virus continues to fill doctors’ offices and hospitals. But with the holidays in full swing, it’s a good time to get a shot and protect yourself, doctors say.
In a severe early flu season, the worst start to the season in a decade, only 21.2 percent of the Palmetto State’s population has received their seasonal vaccination, about 1.1 million people, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
That includes just 14.5 percent of children and 14.9 percent of adults under 65. Nearly half of seniors — 49 percent — had been vaccinated, DHEC said. Those low rates can have consequences, especially for children, said Dr. Elizabeth Mack, chief of pediatric intensive care at the Medical University of South Carolina.
“We really don’t see kids coming into the hospital with the flu that have been vaccinated,” she said.
The state does not typically track seasonal flu vaccinations. But because of the particularly rough start to this season, DHEC will begin releasing the data every two weeks, state epidemiologist Linda Bell said.
“We hope more South Carolinians will decide to roll up their sleeves and get a 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 affects not only patients, but also staff who may be sick or caring for sick children or spouses at home, said Dr. Jane Appleby, Trident Health’s chief medical officer.
“We’ve seen a flu-like illness affecting our families, our workforce and just the community as a whole,” she said.
There may be some relief or at least a drop in flu and COVID rates, according to an analysis by The Post and Courier. Compared to the previous week, the number of positive state laboratory flu tests fell 22.7 percent and the number of hospitalizations fell 25.5 percent for the week ended Nov. 19, the analysis found. Cases of COVID-19 were down 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 is at moderate levels, down from high or significant levels in the previous two weeks, Appleby said.
“We’re not seeing as much COVID as we used to,” she said.
Nationally, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 for the week ended Nov. 18 was 23,153, down 4.4 percent from the previous week. There were 2,222 deaths, a 5.3 percent weekly drop, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
That, unfortunately, is not true at MUSC’s Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, Mack said.
“We haven’t seen any decline, at least here in the Lowcountry, in terms of the number of children being hospitalized,” she said Nov. 23. “We had an uptick this morning in our COVID hospitalizations. We were inundated with children with respiratory viruses.”
While some across the country are talking about a “triple demic” of influenza, COVID and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), children are coming down with a wide range of others, such as parainfluenza, enterovirus and human metapneumovirus, Mack said.
“We see all those, too,” she said. That has caused capacity issues not only in the state but across the country at children’s hospitals, Mack said. But they find a way to provide a bed.
“We don’t count corridors as part of the capacity, and yet that’s what we do,” Mack said. “Sick children will not be turned away. We’ll find a place for them somewhere.”
These kinds of problems usually occur later in the season when the holidays start, people get together more and viruses take advantage.
“Especially with the Thanksgiving holiday when people get together to celebrate, it’s pretty easy to transmit a viral illness,” Appleby said. So if someone hasn’t gotten their shot yet, “this is a good time to do it,” she said.
And it’s never too late to get it, doctors said.
“I vaccinate every day in the ICU,” Mack said. “Surely it’s not too late.”