Having survived breast cancer and COVID-19, Rita Wilson isn’t taking chances with her health — or yours. That’s why the singer and actress is preparing for a potential “twindemic” (a severe flu season coinciding with the coronavirus pandemic) by advocating for flu shots.
“I am a flu shot getter, generally, but I also had COVID-19 and it was horrible and I don’t want to get it again,” Wilson, 63, tells Yahoo Life. “It seems to me such a simple thing to be able to say, ‘Hey, if you’re riding in my car, can you put on your seat belt? Because I want to keep you safe.’ And that’s the way I look at wearing a mask or getting a flu vaccine… It seems like a no brainer.”
Wilson’s Race to 200M campaign, with the American Nurses Association and pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, urges vaccination for the 200 million people 50-plus and those with chronic health problems, who are most at risk for flu complications. “We don’t want to overwhelm the nurses and the healthcare system when the flu season hits,” says Wilson.
It’s a lofty number, considering public trust of health officials has waned amid the pandemic, according to one poll. There is abundant evidence that masks provide “the best defense” against the spread of COVID-19, but some have protested face coverings due to discredited medical theories linked to their use.
“I’ve watched the thing with masks and unfortunately it’s been politicized, which is so unnecessary, but so many of the people that didn’t wear masks and went to places and went to vacations and went to conventions, got the COVID-19 virus. And some of those people died,” she points out. “I wouldn’t want that to happen to even somebody who doesn’t think they should be wearing a mask. I don’t want that person to get sick, either. So I hope that they reconsider.”
The issue is personal: In March, Wilson and husband Tom Hanks, 64, contracted COVID-19 — one of the first celebrities to publicly reveal their diagnoses — in Australia during the filming of Hanks’s Elvis Presley biopic. Both were isolated in a Queensland hospital, then quarantined, giving Rita time to pen her May tune, an ode to female essential workers called “Where’s My Country Song?”
To disband stereotypes about who is at risk for COVID-19, the couple chronicled their grateful recovery on social media. “[It] was to tell people, ‘you can get it,’” Wilson tells Yahoo Life. “We were doing everything that you were supposed to do at that time: social distance, washing hands, sanitizing, [but] we didn’t have masks.” In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged face coverings for healthy people based on early interpretations of contagion and symptomatic transmission; later it expanded guidance for everyone over the age of 2.
Despite preliminary concerns that she and Hanks would experience lung problems as a side effect (one study showed temporary lung damage among “COVID-19 long haulers”), Wilson feels “back to normal.”
“I want to get this message out there is because I used to be a person that thought…‘That kind of stuff happens to other people. It doesn’t happen to me,’” she tells Yahoo Life. “And then I got breast cancer and then I got COVID-19. And when I got COVID-19, I was prepared for it… because I was the one person out of eight that got breast cancer.”
One month after her 2015 diagnosis, Wilson had a double mastectomy and overhauled her lifestyle with exercise and meditation. The experience, she told the New York Times that year, strengthened her marriage of more than two decades. “You never know how your spouse is going to react in a situation like this,” she told the publication. “I was so amazed, so blown away by the care my husband gave me. It was such a normal, intimate time.”
Now, with the September release of her song “What I Would Say.” dedicated to people affected by substance abuse, Wilson is looking forward to performing live music when COVID-19 restrictions lift. Her first concert will take place in November 2021 at the Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In the meantime, she won’t skimp on self-care. “I’m going to go get a flu shot,” she tells Yahoo Life. “And take care of myself — stay hydrated, keep practicing hand washing and social distancing and mask wearing. And a lot of gratitude.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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