In this March 2020 file photo, Steve Moody, director of nursing at Central Maine Medical Center, mops the floor of a tent outside the emergency entrance to the hospital where patients are tested for of the coronavirus. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

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Jeffrey D. Sedlack is the Maine associate medical director for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the largest health crisis of our lifetime. This global pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives, causing unprecedented shut-downs and financial turmoil. A recent survey by the Alliance of Community Health Plans found that less than a third of consumers feel comfortable with in-person visits to the doctor while 72 percent have dramatically changed how they use health care services.

At Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, we have seen a 65 percent decrease in vaccines and immunizations among all of our fully insured commercial plan members. In Maine, there has been a 63 percent drop in immunizations during the period of April to June this year, as compared to the same time period in 2019. This trend is concerning, and could amplify the negative impacts of the pandemic if it continues.

To maintain your health, everyone needs access to routine and preventative care. Without it, we put ourselves at risk of easily avoidable or treatable conditions which can become serious health concerns. Moreover, our communities, schools and the essential workers on whom we all rely can be negatively impacted by something preventable, like a measles outbreak.

We can prioritize our health during the pandemic by following a few simple steps. August is National Immunization Awareness Month and a great reminder to review your and your family members’ vaccinations and immunizations and ensure you are up-to-date. There are many strict guidelines medical providers have put in place to best protect patients during office visits that are based on local, state and CDC guidelines.

As we head into flu season, it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The flu vaccine typically becomes available in September, and you can contact your primary care provider to start planning for you and your family to stay on track to receive the flu vaccine in a timely manner.

Flu immunization is a safe and easy way for patients to avoid the virus or suppress the severity of symptoms. COVID-19 has burdened our hospital systems and hospital capacity may be severely decreased as we face the 2020-21 flu season. It is of the utmost important to do our part to reduce the pressure facing our health care system.

Second, it’s important that you continue to receive all needed care from your provider(s). Patients with congestive heart failure, diabetes, and other underlying conditions are particularly at risk and must continue routine visits and treatments. Consider telehealth options that will connect you with your provider and allow you to get care from the safety of your home.

Moreover, if you have potentially a life-threatening issue and you need to be seen, you should not delay care. National data suggests that up to 20 percent of patients with strokes and 23 percent of heart attacks have delayed this emergency care, which put them at risk for worse clinical outcomes. Many of these patients don’t realize that the health care system has put protocols in place to keep them safe from COVID-19, even as they meet your urgent or ongoing needs.

As we all know, our world has changed dramatically since March and being distant from family, friends, and loved ones over such a long time is difficult. As we become more social with family and friends, I recommend a continued focus on physical distancing from six or more feet.

We all need to be kind to each other to make it through these unprecedented times. In order to remain resilient, as well as maintain the ability to take care of others, you must take care of yourself, including your mental health. Don’t delay needed mental health care and reach out to a neighbor or friend. If you feel like you might need emergency help, your doctor or local emergency room can support you.

Our local, state and national response to the COVID-19 pandemic rely on important individual actions, such as wearing a mask, physical distancing and receiving vaccines and immunizations against preventable disease. We can avoid a preventable surge of disease on top of the global pandemic we will continue to face for the foreseeable future.

Jeffrey D. Sedlack is the Maine associate medical director for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.