Alas, 2020 is finally over and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. To say that 2020 was largely dominated by COVID-19 concerns is an understatement. And while we still need to remain vigilant in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the perfect time to hit the reset button and focus on your health in all areas of life—including things you may have neglected in 2020 (no judgement here). That’s why we’ve put together an easy list of health items to focus on as we enter 2021. 

  1. Get Vaccinated For COVID-19

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine has officially rolled out in the U.S., it’s extremely important that everyone who can get vaccinated does get vaccinated when they have the opportunity in 2021.

“Vaccines work the best when we have more people vaccinated,” says Dr. Kyle Freese, Chief Epidemiologist at STChealth. “Not everybody can always get a vaccine because they’re too young or too old or they’re immunocompromised, etc. So, that’s why it’s even more important for those who are able to get vaccinated to do so.”

In order to halt the spread of COVID-19, and develop herd immunity against the disease, a significant amount of the population needs to become immunized. Generally, at least 50% to 90% of a population needs immunity in order to achieve herd immunity. Successful examples of the power of herd immunity can be found in the measles, mumps, polio and varicella (a.k.a. chickenpox). While these were once common infectious diseases, they are now rare, thanks to both the successful development of vaccines against them and a significant number of the population getting vaccinated. 

“Our ultimate goal is to break the chain of transmission,” explains Dr. Freese. “Once you’re immunized you can essentially break the transmission of SARS-CoV2 within the community. The more people who get vaccinated, the more breaks in the chain we have. We want to put up as many roadblocks to the virus as possible, and that’s what we do with vaccination.”

It should be noted that even people who have already had COVID-19 should get vaccinated when they have the opportunity to do so, as evidence of long-term immunity for those who have recovered from the illness is lacking. 

  1. Catch Up On Other Immunizations

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) childhood vaccine rates have dropped significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Vaccines significantly reduce rates of preventable diseases—such as measles and tetanus,” says Dr. Freese. “We need to keep up with that herd immunity through vaccination if we can, because we don’t want any number of other vaccine-preventable, infectious diseases to rear their ugly head. That’s when we could see outbreaks on top of the pandemic, and that’s the last thing we need or want. Especially when we know all of this can be preventable.”

There’s no time like the present to make sure that you and your children are up-to-date on immunizations—especially while you wait for your turn in line to become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Depending on the particular vaccine, immunization should begin as early as at birth and continue throughout you and your child’s lifetime. The CDC provides vaccine schedules for both children and adults, while MyIR Mobile provides easy and free access to you and your family’s immunization records. 

  1. Schedule Your Annual Checkups  

With the spotlight turned on COVID-19, annual doctors visits and routine medical exams seemed to fall to the wayside for many this past year. That’s why 2021 presents a wonderful opportunity to catch up on regular preventative care, such as annual doctors visits and bi-annual dental cleanings. 

“Even just touching base with your regular primary care provider is important,” says Dr. Freese. “As the conversation changes with the COVID-19 vaccine, we want to make sure that we are still taking care of ourselves outside of preventing SARS-CoV-2 as well. While COVID-19 has impacted a lot of people, there are still other diseases and ailments out there that can cause morbidity and mortality. A lot of times, if detected through regular medical checkups, we can significantly improve these outcomes.”

Fortunately doctors, like many others, have learned how to roll with the pandemic punches by incorporating advanced preventative measures against COVID-19 into their practice, and even offering telemedicine options for their patients. 

  1. Continue to Support Public Health

On a final note as we enter into the new year, Dr. Freese recommends advocating for public health, which has been pulled largely into focus in 2020. 

“Not only have we seen what a crucial role public health plays in general, but we’ve also seen how that extends all the way through the healthcare system,” he explains. “The strides that we’ve made, even with limited funding a lot of the time, is a testament to both the passion of people who work in public health and the reasons why we should support them. Individuals—if there are enough of them—can be a driver for change in that arena.”
For those interested in advocating for public health and, specifically, vaccine education and awareness, consider becoming an Immunization Ambassador. Check out IA’s website to learn more!