Play It Safe: Get Vaccinated

“Everybody should get vaccinated,” says Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein

By Jane Schmitt

Dr. Gale Burstein

Fall and winter are prime times to get sick from respiratory viruses, but keeping up to date with the available vaccines may help prevent severe illness.

That’s the message from Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein, who urges people of all ages to protect themselves and those around them by getting the recommended vaccinations for COVID-19, flu and RSV or respiratory syncytial virus.

“Last year we had a huge outbreak of respiratory illnesses that we referred to as the triple threat, with COVID, influenza and RSV. We want to do everything in our power to prevent that from recurring,” Burstein, who is a physician, said. “Fortunately, there are vaccines for all three viruses, so we should take it upon ourselves to get vaccinated not only to protect ourselves but to protect the vulnerable people in our lives.”

With regard to COVID-19, the landscape has shifted significantly since early 2020 when the coronavirus was spreading rapidly, causing the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency of international concern and later classify the outbreak as a pandemic. Now, despite a sharp decrease in the number of virus-related deaths and hospitalizations, the battle continues against variant strains that are circulating.

“Our COVID response is different now than at the peak of the pandemic,” Burstein said. “We are not seeing the type of numbers and the severity of cases to close down our community. However, we are still seeing COVID and flu and RSV. You could be that next case. One of the effective interventions to prevent severe illness is to get vaccinated. Everybody should get vaccinated.”

But that’s not happening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent survey found that just 13.9% of American adults have gotten the updated COVID-19 vaccine, which targets new variants.

The reasons vary. Some people complied with an employer mandate in the acute phase of the pandemic but decided against additional shots as the global emergency subsided. Others may have completed the primary vaccination series and now consider themselves protected. For some, there is fear after reading or hearing about alleged negative effects of the vaccine and booster shots.

It’s simple apathy that has slowed the vaccination track for Katie, a 58-year-old resident of West Seneca who asked that her last name not be used. She is quick to point out that she is not a vaccine denier or “anti-vaxxer.” She got the original two-dose vaccine plus boosters. But a busy personal life and work demands have her stretched to the max and although she likely will end up getting the next shot, she’s in no hurry.

Burstein is looking to change that mindset.

“It’s not necessarily an emergency (anymore) that people are lining up around the block to get a vaccine, but it’s still something that is important for your health,” she said. “I hope that people would take that as
a priority.”

Herd immunity

The more people who are vaccinated and have immune protection, the less likely that a virus will take hold and spread in the community, Burstein said.

“We refer to that as herd immunity. And we need to get as close to the herd-immunity level as possible to keep everybody healthy, including some very vulnerable people,” she said.

Vaccines are widely available at myriad locations across Western New York.

“Many of the larger grocery stores have pharmacies and they [offer] vaccines,” Burstein said. “When you’re going out shopping or running around doing errands, swing by and get the vaccine. You can shop during the 15-minute observation period [post-shot]. We are always going to places where the vaccine is available. Adding this one extra step could be a game changer for your life.”