Here’s why medical professionals say it’s even more important to get the flu shot this year

photo by: AP File Photo

In this Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 file photo, a patient receives an influenza vaccine in Mesquite, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Health department staffer Kathy Colson does not want two respiratory viruses to attack her body at the same time. That’s why she said it’s especially important to get the flu shot this year amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Flu shots do not provide absolute certainty that a person will not contract influenza, but there’s a possibility they can decrease one’s chances of getting the flu or make the flu less severe, Colson said. She is a retired public health nurse who began working for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Christopher Penn, an infectious disease physician with LMH Health, said that flu vaccines can save lives and prevent hospitalizations. They can also lessen the need for visits to health care facilities, all of which could help decrease stress on medical facilities this winter should there be an increase of COVID-19 cases.

One of the challenges of the flu season will be that there is so much overlap between the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu, Penn said.

Flu shots don’t mean practitioners won’t have to test patients for both COVID-19 and the flu, Colson said, but it is something people can do to try to protect themselves from at least one of the viruses.

People should be “vigilant and respect our immune systems,” said Linda Craig, director of clinic services for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.

“It’s better to be proactive than reactive, so that’s why we’re saying that it’s very important to consider the flu shot this season,” she said.

Colson, Craig and Penn answered a few questions about flu shots on Wednesday.

Where can people get flu shots in Douglas County? Will there be drive-thru options?

Drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens should be offering flu shots, Craig said, as should grocery stores such as Dillons. She also said the health department will soon be giving out the vaccine.

Penn, the infectious disease physician, said that most pharmacies should be administering vaccines, and he recommended that people get in touch with their pharmacy.

Additionally, Craig said the health department’s community partners are discussing options for drive-thru flu vaccine sites, and she anticipates they will have determined locations for the sites in a couple of weeks.

“I think we all believe it’s a good idea,” she said. “We’ve got a little bit of time yet to figure this out.”

Penn said they are hoping to have multiple sites offering drive-thru testing and noted that LMH Health is currently working on converting a storage facility into a second COVID-19 drive-thru testing facility that could also function as a location to receive flu vaccines.

One Douglas County organization already has a drive-thru flu shot clinic on the calendar.

The Visiting Nurses Association will be holding a drive-thru clinic for seniors on Sept. 19 from 9 a.m. to noon. It will be held in the north parking lot of the Community Health Facility at 200 Maine Street. Vaccines will be free for those with a Medicare card and $60 for all others. Lori McSorley, business development manager for the VNA, said the event is first-come, first-served and that there will be 300 doses of the vaccine available.

When is the best time to get a flu shot?

For most people, the best time to get a flu shot is prior to the end of October, Colson said. That gives people about two weeks to develop immunity before the flu season typically begins.

But “it’s never too late,” Colson added. She even said the shot should be received if a person has already had the flu once that season. It could protect them from another strain, she said.

Children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who have never received two flu shots in the same season should get their first flu shot now, according to Colson, because they will need two. The shots must be received one month apart, so if children get their first shot now and their second shot in October, they will be prepared before flu season begins.

What are the best practices for safely getting a flu shot in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Wear a mask, maintain social distancing, use hand sanitizer and wash your hands frequently, Colson said. These practices, as well as those put in place at health care facilities across Douglas County, will help keep you safe when going to get a flu shot.

In response to a question about people who may be worried about getting the flu vaccine from their physician’s office, Craig said that she has been to physicians’ offices in Lawrence since the COVID-19 pandemic and has been impressed with their procedures.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to send my 90-year-old mother to see her physician — at all,” she said.

Craig and Colson said they are curious to see how mask mandates might affect the spread of the flu. Colson said that with widespread mask wearing and the flu vaccine, there’s a chance there could be fewer flu cases this year.


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