On Friday morning, the Obama administration announced that it was appointing Ron Klain, the former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, to become the Ebola “Czar” to oversee all efforts to combat the disease. This isn’t much of a surprise. After all, the president told reporters Thursday night that he would consider making such a move. But there is another, much more subtle message, hidden in this move: Get a flu shot.
When he spoke to reporters Thursday, Obama expressed complete satisfaction with his current team overseeing the Ebola response: Thomas Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of the Health and Human Services, Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice. But each of those four have other duties as well. Monaco and Rice are both heavily involved in coordinating the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
For Frieden and Burwell, their attention will soon be partially diverted to flu season. “We’re going into flu season, which means, by the way, that people should be looking to get their flu shots,” Obama said. “We know that every year tens of thousands of people potentially die of the flu, and a hundred-thousand or more may be actually going to the emergency room and hospitalized because of the flu. So that’s something that Tom [Frieden] also is responsible for.”
As I noted Friday morning, there is no reason to fear Ebola. You don’t need to wear a hazmat suit when you travel. But if you are feeling helpless and want to do something to help combat the disease, get a flu shot. The symptoms for the flu—fever, nausea, vomiting—are very similar to those of Ebola. That means the more people who get the flu this year, the more people are going to panic about potential cases of Ebola, cases that the vast, vast majority of the time will prove false. Reducing the number of people who get the flu will help quell that panic.
And, by the way, the flu killed 50,643 Americans in 2012. That’s another very good reason to get a flu shot.