WAPAKONETA — Health officials are urging Ohioans to get flu shots ahead of the upcoming flu season to prevent a dual epidemic of flu and coronavirus — a growing concern as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising in northwest Ohio and activities are moving indoors. A bad flu season could strain those resources even further.
A concerted effort is now underway to get Ohioans vaccinated before flu activity is widespread to prevent that worst-case scenario from unfolding.
The Auglaize County Health Department held a drive-thru flu shot clinic on Wednesday, one of several such clinics planned across the state ahead of flu season, which typically peaks between December and February.
Nearly 52% of Americans received a flu shot last season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency estimates those vaccinations may have prevented 7.5 million flu illnesses, 105,000 hospitalizations and 6,300 deaths.
How many Ohioans are taking the flu vaccine this fall compared to last year is unclear, but widespread uptake of the vaccine combined with frequent hand washing, social distancing and use of face masks — all precautions intended to curb coronavirus infections — could have the benefit of reducing flu infections as well.
The vaccine is recommended for anyone 6 months old or older, particularly for the elderly, pregnant women and young children who are at higher risk for serious complications from the flu. Those with chronic health conditions are also recommended to receive the vaccine.
This year, there’s even greater emphasis on vaccinating essential workers and anyone who considered high risk for serious complications from COVID-19 because of the risk for co-infection of the flu and coronavirus.
“We don’t know what it’s going to be like for an individual to have flu and COVID-19 at the same time,” said Tami Gough, director of health education and prevention services for Allen County Public Health.
“(And) the flu in and of itself can cause serious illness and hospitalizations,” Gough said. “With numbers rising for COVID-19 and hospitalizations for COVID-19 rising, we really don’t want beds to be taken up in hospitals if we can prevent it. If getting a flu vaccine can help save a bed in a hospital, then that adds to the importance this year of getting flu vaccines.”
Flu vaccines are available at pharmacies, physicians’ offices and health departments, but some offices like the Allen County Health Department are not accepting walk-ins this year due to COVID-19, so an appointment may be needed.