With flu season approaching and the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, it is more important than ever this year to get a flu vaccine, said Nate Wardle, spokesman for the state Department of Health.
“As we see COVID-19 and the flu potentially co-circulating, we want to be sure people get a flu vaccine,” Wardle said.
Flu vaccines are available at many locations, including your doctor’s office, walk-in clinic or pharmacy.
Cook’s Pharmacy in Kingston Twp. has seen an uptick this year in customers getting flu shots amid the pandemic, said owner Frank Lombardo.
“Last September, we did 16 flu shots. This September so far, we’ve done 36,” Lombardo said. “We anticipated this with the COVID situation. There’s more awareness. There’s more paranoia. There’s more of a consciousness out there about protecting yourself.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started before flu season, Lombardo said he’s not sure yet how it’s going to tie in.
“You don’t want a double whammy where you have to worry about COVID as well as the flu,” he said. “One could lead to the other because one would compromise your immune system and you would be more likely to pick up the other one so it makes it really tricky.”
The flu is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and 5% to 20% of Americans are affected by the virus each year, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC estimated that between Oct. 1, 2019 and April 4, 2020, there were as many as 740,000 flu hospitalizations and 62,000 deaths from flu.
Commonwealth Health spokeswoman Annmarie Poslock said the coronavirus pandemic means two infectious respiratory viruses will be active during flu season.
“Surges of COVID-19 patients have already challenged the healthcare system this year and flu hospitalizations on top of this could inundate area hospitals,” she said.
Commonwealth Health is providing flu shots through its network of primary care clinics. Amid the pandemic, Poslock said clinics offering flu vaccines are taking extra precautions to maintain a clean and safe environment for patients and caregivers.
Geisinger held its first community drive-thru flu shot clinic on Saturday and Sunday in CenterPoint Commerce and Trade Park in Jenkins Twp.. Geisinger’s health and wellness team provided the flu shots at no cost. In addition, Geisinger primary care and pediatric offices offer flu shots during regular office hours.
Geisinger pharmacy locations offer flu shots for patients and those age 9 and older can get a flu shot at Geisinger Convenient Care locations any day of the week, with no appointment necessary.
Dr. Alison Brodginski, director of infectious diseases in Geisinger’s northeast region and associate chief medical officer for Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Twp., said to date, Geisinger has distributed more than 125,000 flu shots to its locations, including providing more than 1,500 flu shots at community and provider events.
The state health department plans to offer the flu vaccine to those who are uninsured and underinsured by appointment this year at the state health centers as schedules permit, Wardle said. Due to mitigation efforts in place, the state health centers are not open but he said they are working to ensure those who are uninsured and underinsured have access to their flu vaccine.
Last year, he said state officials requested and were allocated 386,130 doses. So far this year, he said they have requested and expect to be allocated more than 860,000 doses. The numbers are for the Pennsylvania Immunization Program and do not cover Philadelphia, which receives its own allocation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends anyone six months of age and older get the flu vaccine unless they have a medical reason that prevents them from getting the shot.
In addition, the department recommends people also protect themselves from the flu by doing what they are already doing to protect against COVID-19 such as covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, clean surfaces frequently and wash your hands.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and for some people, vomiting and diarrhea.