This summer while two hurricanes grew in the gulf, the nation’s disease experts planned for another set of storms as the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to overlap with flu season. At an Aug. 31 press conference, Gov. Doug Ducey described this combination as a “perfect storm.”
“We aren’t taking any chances,” Ducey said, encouraging Arizonans to get a flu shot to help mitigate the burden on the state’s healthcare system. “More than 4,000 people are hospitalized in Arizona with flu complications and tragically in our state about 700 people die from the flu each year.”
The Governor’s Office’s goal is for a flu shot to be available for everyone who wants one, including the 700,000 uninsured Arizonans.
For this flu season, manufacturers are projected to provide nearly 200 million doses of the influenza vaccine to the United States, an increase of 11 million from the previous year, according to the CDC.
The previous flu season saw a record number of reported cases, with 10 percent of hospital visits being for the flu according to Dr. Cara Christ, Director of Arizona's Department of Health Services, during the Aug. 31 press conference.
People who become co-infected with COVID and the flu are at drastically greater risk of having a severe outcome, according to Pima County Health Department vaccine preventable disease program manager Crystal Rambaud.
Ducey’s flu season plan will make flu shots available at select COVID-19 test sites. Additionally, the governor’s office will be launching an online “Vaccine Finder” to direct people to free shots and a website to assist local businesses in setting up on-site flu clinics.
Pima County Health Department is also launching a new partnership with Mollen Immunization Clinics, according to Rambaud.
“Those clinics are going to be at different places throughout the county,” Rambaud said. “To try and get to populations that sometimes don't get vaccinated or that it's critically important that they be vaccinated. And they'll be able to immunize those groups for no charge. They take insurance, but they can also do free immunizing for people who are uninsured, or for people who don't have one of our accepted insurance plans.”
Mollen’s schedule with the county is still being finalized for public vaccinations, but Mollen is currently vaccinating private groups such as nursing homes and hospice according to Rambaud.
Arizona’s medical experts have been reiterating that COVID prevention measures are critical with the oncoming flu season, to continue rigorous handwashing, wearing face masks and social distancing with a flu shot being another effective way to reduce the risk for other members of the community.
“It’s like putting your seatbelt on,” Rambaud said. “It's not going to save your life 100 percent of the time, but it greatly reduces your risk of being hospitalized or dying.”
Pima County Health clinics will have flu shots available for people with insurance and for uninsured children in the next few days according to Rambaud. For adults without insurance Rambaud also said that Pima County Health clinics will have shots available within the next few weeks.