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Dr. Savage-Jeter says Flu Vaccine is More Important During COVID-19 Pandemic


Dr. Erica Savage-Jeter conducted a virtual interview with a News Writing class on Sept. 29. She explained the added importance of a flu shot since no vaccine for COVID-19 has been approved.

Dr. Erica Savage-Jeter spoke to a USC Upstate journalism class on Sept. 29 about the COVID-19 pandemic and how the flu vaccine is more beneficial during this unprecedented time. She is Regional Medical Director – Partners in Primary Care in the Upstate.

Savage-Jeter said that a common strain of flu is studied internationally each year. Scientists focus on which strain shows a lot of activity and then formulate a flu vaccine for that given season.

As the flu has an unpredictable nature, sometimes the vaccine is precise and sometimes it can be less accurate. In the instance of COVID-19, that virus was not predicted and scientists were not prepared with a vaccine. Savage-Jeter said that there is no protection against COVID.

“There are risks associated with COVID and there are risks associated with the flu,” Savage-Jeter said. ” “If we can protect you from flu, then maybe we can prevent you from having complications.”

There is skepticism around the flu vaccine, particularly from parents when it comes to vaccinating their children. Savage-Jeter said it is mostly due to the misconceptions associated with the vaccine. She said there have been stories of the vaccine giving people the flu, making them sick or getting the flu after receiving the vaccine.

Savage-Jeter said scientists have made the vaccine its safest than in previous years. It is possible to develop flu symptoms after getting the vaccine because a person may have already been exposed to the influenza virus. A second flu strain may also develop during the flu season.

It is still beneficial to get the flu vaccine because people that do and develop the flu over time tend to have less severe symptoms. If an individual with the vaccine catches a new strain of the flu, their reaction is also likely to be less severe.

Savage-Jeter is a South Carolina native who completed her undergraduate degree at Wofford College and earned her medical degree at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia. She finished her Family Medicine training at the Palmetto Health Family Medicine Residency program in Columbia. Savage-Jeter earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Auburn University after receiving her medical credentials.

Dr. Savage-Jeter’s virtual interview is below.

Q: Brandon Martin: What made you become a doctor? What do you like about it? A: Dr. Erica Savage-Jeter - When I was in high school, my biology teacher's daughter had cystic fibrosis. I learned a lot about genetic disorders from the class and discussion. When I graduated high school, I thought that I wanted to do something with genetics. When I went to her labs in college, I found that people didn’t want to talk. They’d do their work, do their labs, and go back to their room, whereas I really like to talk and engage with people. As part of my interim one year, I spent time with a genetic c counselor, but realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted more of a leadership role and looked into medicine as opposed to genetics.

Brandon: Can you explain the process and effectiveness of the new saliva tests for COVID? A: Savage-Jeter: Back in March when we were first having COVID cases in our community, at that time the only way to test for COVID was through a nasal swab. The swab went through your nose and back towards the opening of your mouth. It was like a deep swab. But as time has gone on and we have studied COVID more, we have evolved from the deep nasal swab, to just a nasal swab, to oral (back of the throat for saliva). All those tests are looking for the RNA (ribonucleic acid) components of the virus. The tests have evolved over time.

Q: Brandon: Do you know when all of this will end? We all want to get back to our normal lifestyle. A: Savage-Jeter: Oh, I wish I knew. I wish I could tell you because nobody wants to get back to her normal life more than me. I am anxious for the day that I can feel comfortable flying out of here and going on vacation and not wearing a mask, my kids going to school without wearing a mask or not attend virtually. I wish I knew. I think we have made great strides, if you think back six months ago, our testing took a week to come back. We’re getting our test results faster. We're evolving, we’re even working on a vaccine. All we can do is be patient.

Q: Karen Hernandez: Are there any side effects or severe symptoms from a flu shot? A: Savage-Jeter – If a person is allergic to any components of the flu vaccine, then, they can have an allergic reaction. A lot of times when you go get the flu vaccine, they will ask you, are you allergic to eggs? Or have you had an allergic reaction to a flu shot before, because we certainly don't want to give you anything that your body is going to have an allergic response to. That's probably the biggest concern about flu vaccine. Now, at the site, a person may have a local reaction to where the medicine is injected. I've seen people have some swelling, some tenderness, some redness. This is where typically the body is reacting to the medicine. That usually goes away with time, some ice, elevation, things like that. But you can have a local reaction there as well, but, again, that's usually self-resolving, self-limiting, and doesn't cause you any harm as it relates to that.

And then we've had some people that have developed, what we call neurological symptoms. They have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome before. So, whether it was associated with a flu vaccine or not, if anyone has ever developed Guillain-Barré, then we don't recommend giving them the flu shot because we have seen a correlation between people developing those neurologic symptoms and receiving a flu vaccine. So, we typically don't give the flu vaccine to anyone who's ever had Guillain-Barré. Other than that, the shot is safe for everybody else.

Q: Karen Hernandez: - Thank you, Doctor. And then just following up a bit on that, so do doctors have to go through any type of updated special training for the flu shots? A: Savage-Jeter - We typically don't because if there was some type of change as it relates to education for the flu shot, then perhaps, but we never really get a lot of knowledge about what's in the flu shot. So, we don't know which strain it is or anything like that. We leave that to the virologists and all those people that do those sorts of things. If it were to evolve over time that would change any of those things, I would think that there would be something updated released to us for that. But because those things don't change, we don't really get that.

I'll give you an example of a vaccine that did change. There's a pneumonia vaccine that a couple of years ago, it was recommended that everybody over 65 get, which is Prevnar 13. That indication changed in the fall of last year. Of all of the societies, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Medical Association, all those associations that are responsible for boarding and educating, primary care physicians and other physicians that take care of seniors, were updated. If we had a change like that, that's how it would get disseminated among physicians, but there's no class or anything that we would attend as it relates to vaccination. You would just get an update from your professional medical society essentially.

Q: Jazmine Squire: Do you think American leaders could’ve prevented the spread of COVID? A: Savage-Jeter - No, I mean, I have personal opinions. But they are based on personal opinions not what I study. I’ll keep my personal opinion to myself. But I don’t know, I really don’t know.

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