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Coronavirus propels bigger push to get Tucsonans to get flu shot
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Coronavirus propels bigger push to get Tucsonans to get flu shot

As summer becomes fall and influenza season approaches, health-care professionals around Pima County are repeating the same refrain: Get the flu shot.

Arizonans typically don’t take influenza as seriously as people do elsewhere. But this year that could mean overwhelming hospital workers already busy with coronavirus patients.

In 2018-2019, Arizona was one of 10 states nationwide with the lowest rates of influenza immunization, with 42.6% of the population getting the shot, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

“We’re hoping more people than usual will get the flu shot this year while also continuing to practice ways to prevent spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Liz Connick, chief of the infectious-diseases division at the University of Arizona and Banner-University Medical Center.

“Hospitals are already overburdened by COVID, so please do your part and get your flu shot.”

The Pima County Health Department has solicited the help of two agencies, Mollen Flu Shots and Passport Health, to reach more of the population here this year.

They will be prioritizing places where people congregate and live, like assisted- living facilities and long-term-care centers, as well as places where they can reach high-risk groups, said Crystal Rambaud, the vaccine-preventable diseases manager for Pima County.

Rambaud said people who need a flu shot and can’t get it from a primary care provider can use the Vaccine Finder to find out where the closest location is to get the shot.

Residents can also log on to the Pima County Health Department flu vaccine information page. Additionally, she said, many pharmacies have the flu shot on hand now.

Most people can get immunized for free through the county depending on inventory and insurance, so Rambaud urges people to call ahead and check. Most insurance companies cover a flu vaccine at no cost.

“People can also purchase a shot for $10 or $15, but we don’t want to charge people,” she said. “The flu vaccination is important every year, but this year it’s more important than ever. We don’t have this opportunity with COVID, but we do with the flu.”

People can still become infected with influenza after being vaccinated but will typically experience a milder illness of shorter duration, she said, and are less likely to be hospitalized or die.

It usually takes about two weeks for the shot to begin to work, Connick said. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, she said, with outbreaks typically peaking in December and January.

Symptoms for influenza and coronavirus are similar, she said, and clinicians generally won’t be able to tell the difference without testing. She said health-care professionals are anticipating some people will get infected with both.

Some people have wondered whether it would help to get one flu shot in the fall and one in mid-winter, but Connick said studies show that’s only potentially helpful for organ transplant patients who have had their immune systems medically suppressed to avoid organ rejection.

She said people should keep doing what they are already doing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19: social-distancing, wearing masks in public places and frequent hand-washing or hand-sanitizing.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar.

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