In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians are warning the public not to forget the importance of the flu vaccine, as well.
"Just like with the COVID vaccine, the flu shot was always intended to reduce the spread of influenza, and the more people that we have vaccinated for influenza, the lower the chances are that it's spreading through the community and then causing any hospitalizations," said Dr. Cody Turner, pharmacist at East Gate Pharmacy in Hot Springs Village who oversees the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Garland County.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, Garland County did not see any deaths from the flu last year, while statewide there were 21 deaths, compared to 121 in 2019-2020 and 120 in 2018-2019. (See related editor's note at the end of the article.)
Turner noted it is not only important individually for people to receive their flu shot, but also for the surrounding community.
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"Making sure to get an annual flu shot does help to protect everyone else around you -- the same way that the COVID vaccines have also," he said.
Turner was busy working a mass vaccination clinic at Balboa Baptist Church in Hot Springs Village Tuesday where 1,500 vaccine doses were expected to be administered. The vaccines included first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 as well as COVID-19 booster shots and quadrivalent influenza vaccines for the common flu illness.
Turner said many people indicated they wanted both the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Yes, we've had at least half of the people today say that they wanted both of them today at the same time," he said. "And then the other half actually had already gotten them from us over the last few weeks. Some people just wanted the convenience of getting them both done at the same time -- it was easier for their schedule -- and then the people that didn't want to get them at the same time, there was always an option for them to get it somewhere else as well."
On Tuesday, the Ad Council, the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the CDC Foundation announced a new effort to encourage more people to get vaccinated against the flu.
While flu activity was unusually low during last year's flu season -- due largely to COVID-19 mitigation measures such as wearing masks, school and work closures, and physical distancing -- the threat of flu is likely far greater this year with many of those mitigation measures in decline.
Turner said even if one has already had the COVID-19 vaccine, it is still important to receive the flu shot as it is a completely different vaccine. While getting a flu shot will not protect against COVID-19, it can reduce one's risk of flu illness and prevent hospitalization, which is crucial when the health care system is burdened by the coronavirus.
"So for the flu shot, if they've had the COVID vaccine, it's still just as important as if they hadn't had the COVID vaccine to get the flu shot," he said. "It's really just doing everything you can to help prevent the spread of any infectious disease is the purpose."
Another clinic will be held at the church on Thursday. Turner said people are still booking appointments and as of Tuesday morning, there were around 200 of 1,000 total appointments still open. There will also be smaller clinics next month throughout Hot Springs Village and Hot Springs for the COVID, flu and booster vaccines.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been corrected to reflect that Garland County did not have any flu deaths last year.
The article originally included an incorrect statement by Dr. Cody Turner, who oversees the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Garland County, that Garland County saw an average of 360 deaths from the flu last year.
The Sentinel-Record regrets the error.