Flu shots do double duty

Sep 11, 2020

Credit CDC

There are more ways than one that the flu shot might protect people against COVID-19.

There’s the fact that getting vaccinated will reduce an individual’s likelihood to experience the flu and coronavirus concurrently. Furthermore, protection against the flu will lessen the risk that influenza cases stress Alaska’s hospital capabilities.

But widespread efforts to administer the flu shot might also prove handy in prepping the peninsula for the eventual arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine. Think of it as a “dry run,” said Bud Sexton of the Borough Office of Emergency Management.

“Since we know there’s going to be a large percentage of the population who will want to get vaccinated with COVID, there’s a lot of timing that goes underway to make sure everything goes well whenever the vaccine is ready for distribution,” Sexton said.

The Office of Emergency Management is working with the Kenai Public Health Center to coordinate two or more drive-through events in mid to late October, to vaccinate as many against the flu as possible.

Individual clinics and pharmacies will still be doling out doses of the vaccine as usual as flu season approaches.

Hospitals, public and private health agencies and the school district are involved in planning a coordinated vaccination effort. Participants started meeting around three weeks ago and are now meeting weekly.

A push to vaccinate more against the flu could be beneficial in its own right, given the anticipated higher demand in flu shots this season.

Justin Ruffridge is a pharmacist at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, one of many sites in the Kenai-Soldotna area that is administering flu shots. Ruffridge said he has already received some high-dose vaccine — which is meant for people over 65 years of age —  and is waiting on more doses of the standard vaccine to come in.

Back in January, Ruffridge was anticipating an increased demand for flu shots, so he ordered more than the year prior. Those orders predated COVID-19, however, and nearly three-quarters of the doses he currently has in stock are already spoken for.

“I ordered about 10% more vaccine this year than I had done last year, thinking we would have a little increase in demand. I may have underordered, and hopefully I can get access to more as the fall sort of ticks on,” Ruffridge said.

He’s asking people to make vaccine appointments, rather than just walk in, to avoid overcrowding in the pharmacy.

Last year, Alaska saw 828 flu cases, according to data from the Department of Health and Social Services.

Nurse Manager Leslie Felts of Kenai Peninsula Public Health said her office is recommending people get vaccinated between September and October.

Felts hopes three-quarters of Alaskans will get vaccinated for the flu this year.