Public health officials and medical experts are beseeching people to get their annual flu shots this year, hoping to avoid a major outbreak during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.
An influenza epidemic alongside the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the “twindemic” that health officials are trying to avoid. Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic vaccine expert, explained why getting a flu vaccination is so important, in a dispatch from the Mayo Clinic News Network earlier this week. He noted the annual flu vaccination is especially important this season.
“Where we have COVID-19 spreading, we will very likely have influenza spreading,” says Dr. Poland.
The flu vaccine won’t protect against COVID-19, but it can help reduce the chances of getting the flu, he added.
”The symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza overlap almost exactly in their initial manifestations with the exception of the loss of smell, loss of taste,” says Dr. Poland. “That would be very unusual with influenza.”
Getting a flu vaccination helps rule out influenza if you develop respiratory issues and helps reduce stress on the health care system.
According to a bulletin distributed by the state Department of Health last week stressing the importance of flu shots this year, everyone 6 months and older needs a flu vaccine. Young children, pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, and those aged 65 and older are at high risk of complications from flu illness..
“Think of it as essential to get a flu vaccine this year,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, Washington State Health Officer. “We should all get a flu vaccine now to help protect ourselves and our communities as we navigate this pandemic together.”
Washington provides all recommended vaccines at no cost for kids from birth through age 18, available across the state.
“Flu vaccine is available everywhere, and many pharmacies now allow younger patients to get vaccinated with their families. Our health care workers need everyone’s support — the decision to get a flu vaccine is more important than ever,” Dr. Lofy added.
According to the state Department of Health:
■ It’s best to get your family vaccinated for flu by October. Pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals follow new safety measures to give vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
■ In Washington, all children under age 19 get flu vaccines and other recommended vaccines at no cost. The provider may charge an administration fee to give the vaccine. You can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.
■ Most insurance plans, including Medicare part B, cover the cost of flu vaccine for adults. ■ The website vaccinefinder.org offers nearby flu shot providers by entering a zip code.
When zip codes for Hoquiam or Aberdeen were provided, the website came up with three results on the Harbor: The Grays Harbor County Department of Public Health in Montesano along with the Safeway and Walmart pharmacies in Aberdeen.
When asked in a call Thursday afternoon to the county health department if it was providing flu shots, The Daily World was told that people needed “to contact their local pharmacies or primary-care physicians for flu shots.”
Meanwhile, Safeway and Walmart are offering flu shots and both trying to do so safely with the pandemic in mind, meaning masks are required at their flu shot clinics, among other safety measures.
Last week, Safeway went as far as to offer a drive-up flu shot clinic in the parking lot one morning at Rainier Lanes, which partnered with the supermarket on the effort. That event attracted “about 50” drive-up customers, a Safeway official said.
It was part of a company pilot program launched by Safeway this year that also included a drive-up clinic in Port Angeles.
But if you missed out on that, Safeway is offering flu shots from 1 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10:20 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Cost of the vaccine for uninsured patients is $36 and $54 for the high dose necessary for those 65 and older.
Walmart is also offering regular walk-in clinics for those seeking a flu shot. They are held Tuesdays from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m. The uninsured charge there is $36.88 for the regular dose and $75 for high dose.
The walk-in clinic at the Swanson’s store in South Aberdeen is also offering the shots. The cost is $40, although many insurances, including Medicare, will cover that. The clinic does not have the high-potency shots. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.