By Dr. Tara Ostrom

It’s 100+ degrees out, so you may not be thinking about flu season. However, there are sporadic cases of flu here in Arizona, according to community health data from Maricopa County, and already doctors are recommending people make a plan to get their annual flu shot when it becomes locally available. In addition, this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has shaken our nation and, of the many lessons we’ve learned as a result of this public health crisis, one of the most impactful is the importance of immunizations and vaccinations. For example, in part due to COVID-19, 30 percent of Americans said they are now more likely to get a flu vaccine this year.

Unfortunately, many adults still are under the mistaken impression that vaccinations are not needed for themselves or their children or are concerned about side effects. The reality is quite the opposite: in the U.S., vaccines have greatly reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely killed or harmed infants, children and adults. This year, seasonal flu vaccination is especially important as the stress on hospitals will be greatest if the COVID-19 and influenza epidemics overlap and peak around the same time.

While it isn’t possible to predict the future, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that cause COVID-19 will both be spreading in the fall and winter. So while vaccination is important, given pandemic concerns, how you go about getting your flu shot may look a little different. Additionally, some common places where people get their flu shots, such as workplaces, may not offer them this year due to social distancing challenges.

To help minimize risks, there are certain safety precautions and new protocols that health care facilities are implementing in order to help ensure that getting a flu shot is safe and accessible for all patients. For example, OptumCare Primary Care has been following the CDC’s guidelines to help ensure safe delivery of care during vaccination visits including:
1. Screening all patients for COVID-19 symptoms both when they schedule their appointment and when they arrive.
2. Assigning a dedicated screener at each clinic entrance checking the temperature of all patients, visitors and staff prior to coming into the facility.
3. Following social distancing protocols while waiting.
4. Ensuring all rooms are disinfected after each patient’s visit.
5. All staff, patients, and visitors wear surgical masks and staff practice respiratory hygiene, cough etiquette and hand hygiene.

This year’s health crisis has made it a critical year for ensuring that you receive your annual flu vaccination.

The cost of the flu vaccine is often covered by your health plan, whether you buy health insurance on your own, receive health benefits from your employer, or through a Medicare or state Medicaid program. Check with your health insurer and then schedule an appointment by calling your physician or going to a nearby urgent care clinic. Make sure you’re making your health a priority by getting your flu shot this year.

Dr. Tara Ostrom is the associate medical director with OptumCare Primary Care.