Chelsea Berg, a nurse at Peninsula Community Health Services, administers a flu shot during a free drive-thru flu shot event at Kenai Central High School on Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Chelsea Berg, a nurse at Peninsula Community Health Services, administers a flu shot during a free drive-thru flu shot event at Kenai Central High School on Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Officials: It’s time for the flu shot

State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said there are some similarities with the flu and COVID-19 viruses.

State health officials last week emphasized the importance of getting the influenza vaccine this fall.

Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Social Services, said last Thursday that last year’s flu season was relatively mild.

“It’s stunningly impressive how little flu was circulating,” she said. “I think with all the mitigation measures, with all the masking, with folks really kind of keeping their bubbles small, I think those measures really impacted all respiratory virus transmission.”

Castrodale said it’s still important to get vaccinated for the flu “to always minimize the impact that it has on hospitalizations and deaths and morbidity for our community.”

State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said there are some similarities with the flu and COVID-19 viruses.

“They’re both respiratory pathogens — (so) masking, social distancing, avoiding crowds, good ventilation in indoor spaces — all of that helps to decrease flu transmission as well,” he said.

Along with mitigation strategies, McLaughlin said getting a flu shot is the best way to reduce another community-wide flu virus outbreak as the state is still grappling with full hospitals and rapid COVID-19 spread.

McLaughlin said the timing for flu vaccination is important.

“People should be ideally vaccinated by the end of October,” he said.

Children ages 6 months to 8 years old, McLaughlin said, need to get their first dose even sooner to meet the late October deadline. He said anyone older than 6 months is eligible for the flu vaccine, and those older than 8 only need a single dose. According to the DHSS, it is safe to receive the flu vaccine around the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine.

Officials said it’s hard to predict what the upcoming flu season will look like, since the virus is pretty unpredictable.

“Flu does what flu wants to do, and we’ll just protect ourselves as we can and mitigate as we can,” Castrodale said.

On the central peninsula, most providers said flu vaccines will be available by late September or early October. Some pharmacies, including Safeway and Walgreens, already have some flu vaccine in stock.

In Kenai this fall, flu shots will be available at Safeway, Peninsula Community Health Services and Walmart.

In Soldotna, flu shots will be available at Safeway, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Peninsula Community Health Services, Fred Meyer and Walgreens.

In Homer, flu shots will be available at Kachemak Bay Medical Clinic, Safeway, SVT Health and Wellness, Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware and Homer Medical Center.

In Anchor Point, SVT Health and Wellness will also carry flu vaccine, as well as NTC Community Clinic in Ninilchik.

In Seward, flu shots are available at Chugachmiut North Star Clinic and Safeway.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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