Getting the flu during a normal year can range from annoying to potentially deadly, with complications that can require hospital-level interventions. Getting the flu during a pandemic could be even worse, which is why health care providers all over the region are putting extra effort into their flu shot programs this year.
The effects of getting COVID-19 are not entirely understood yet, but the disease has proven more deadly than the flu and has already claimed the lives of more than 210,000 Americans since March.
It is possible to get the flu and the novel coronavirus at the same time. But the possibility of getting hit by both at once isn’t the only reason doctors are encouraging everyone who can get vaccinated to get a flu shot this year. Many hospital resources are already dedicated to preventing the spread of COVID-19, and an additional wave of flu patients would overburden systems that have had to reinvent their entire way of doing business.
“The symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are very similar and while there is still no vaccine for COVID-19, we could see a ‘twindemic’ this year,” Jason Morris, a physician at Dignity Health’s Urgent Care in Solvang, said in a news release.
To that end, hospital chains and public health systems are working to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Dignity Health is prepared to vaccinate thousands of people in the Central Coast region, with grants specifically designated to help reach and immunize people in underserved areas of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
“Each and every year we try to get as many people vaccinated against influenza, but this year it’s especially important,” said Dr. Scott Robertson, the chief physician executive for Dignity Health Central Coast.
All three counties in the region are also holding events where people can get vaccinated for free. In Santa Barbara County, the Public Health Department hosted six drive-up events where people older than 2 can get a flu shot without insurance, an appointment or even an ID.
The events are being done in collaboration with Sansum Clinic, Allan Hancock College, the Medical Reserve Corps and Cottage Health. The Public Health Department vaccinated almost 4,000 people with the events.
While the county has hosted a yearly free flu shot clinic before the pandemic, public information officer Jackie Ruiz said it hasn’t done anything of this scale before. Previously, the flu shot clinic was a one-day event held in Goleta Valley, and would serve about 1,000 people.
This year, the events were spread throughout the county. There were two flu shot clinics in Santa Barbara, two in Lompoc and two in Santa Maria, along with smaller events aimed at protecting the county’s elderly population.
San Luis Obispo County is also offering free flu shots. Those events are being held on Oct. 21 from noon to 5 p.m. in Arroyo Grande and Atascadero. There are no income or residency requirements, but the events are first come, first serve.
In Ventura County, the Public Health Department is working with Community Memorial Health System to offer flu shots throughout the month, and in locations across the county. The clinics are on Saturday mornings, from 9 a.m. to noon, and people can walk in to get a shot without an appointment.
Those flu shots are being directed towards more vulnerable parts of the population, though, including people older than 60, those with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, healthcare providers, children 3 to 5 years old and people taking care of children under 6 months old.