Atop everything else on people’s minds because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s now influenza season.

Flu season began this month and continues into the spring. Public health officials worry, with good reason, that it will strain America’s health care system as cases of COVID-19 are climbing again in some states.

“We could see a rise in influenza anytime between now and February,” Dr. Teresa Everson, health officer for Yakima County, said during the Sept. 30 county health board meeting.

The contagious respiratory illness spreads through coughing, sneezing and close contact. It can cause mild to severe illness, but it can also be fatal.

The best way to prevent it is to get a flu vaccine. Everson and other officials with the Yakima Health District stress that’s more important than ever this year during the pandemic. The health district has started tracking flu statistics on its website along with the COVID-19 statistics it’s been keeping since mid-March.

“Please, everyone, get your influenza vaccines,” Everson said at the board meeting. “Influenza does kill, so please remember to get your influenza vaccines.”

A large surge in influenza cases strained Yakima County’s health care providers in December 2019. That month, Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima saw a record number of patients visit the emergency department. Hospital officials said early this year it was related to influenza, both A and B strains. At Astria Regional Medical Center in Yakima — which closed early this year — there were 224 positive cases of influenza A or B throughout the month, according to a registered nurse in the infection prevention quality management department.

“It’s especially important to be prepared for flu season this year to help health care systems across the country keep their focus on combating the global pandemic,” said Lori Kelley, senior director of quality for the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic.

Those at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, those with chronic health conditions and people ages 65 and older. They’re also at risk of complications from COVID-19. The flu prevention page on the Yakima Health District website has a chart showing some of the differences between the flu, COVID-19, colds and allergies.

Anybody age 6 months and older can get a flu vaccine, which causes antibodies to develop about two weeks after vaccination. The antibodies protect against infection.

Rite Aid, Walgreens and Safeway pharmacies are among large national chains offering seasonal flu shots in the Yakima area. Rite Aid ordered 40% more vaccine doses this year, according to a news release. Appointments aren’t necessary at those locations, and flu shots are free with most insurance, so there is no co-payment unless required by the plan.

Prosser Memorial Health is offering flu vaccines at all its primary care clinics. It also offers the flu vaccine to inpatients if they haven’t yet received it. Flu shots are provided at Astria Health centers in the Yakima Valley, and Virginia Mason Memorial is offering flu shots to patients at its clinics.

“VMM has always strongly encouraged influenza vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older. The only difference this flu season is the additional precautions we’re taking for COVID and the conversion of some of our flu clinics to drive-through immunizations,” said Dr. Tanny Davenport, physician executive of medical group operations at Virginia Mason Memorial.

The Yakima Health District’s flu prevention page has a map of flu shot providers along with lists of pharmacy flu shot locations, school immunization flu clinics and state Department of Health flu-related news.

Here are more resources for getting flu shots:

Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic

Sites across the Yakima Valley are offering flu shots for patients and community members. Those who get flu shots don’t have to be Farm Workers Clinic patients. Appointments are required and flu shots cost $20. Below is a list of the dates, times and locations of flu shot clinics:

  • 11th Avenue Family Medicine Clinic, 314 S. 11th Ave., Suite A, Yakima. Flu clinics will run Wednesdays through December from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Yakima Medical-Dental Clinic, 602 E. Nob Hill Blvd. Yakima. Flu clinics are planned from Oct. 13 through Dec. 16; they will not take place Oct. 31 and Nov. 28. They are open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1 to 4:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Lincoln Avenue Medical-Dental Center, 2205 W. Lincoln Ave., Yakima. Thursdays through Nov. 19 from 3-6 p.m.; Oct. 10 and Nov. 4 from 9 a.m. to noon.
  • Valley Vista Medical Group, 820 Memorial St., Suite 1, Prosser. Oct. 13 and Oct. 27 from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Toppenish Medical-Dental Clinic, 510 W. First Ave., Toppenish. Oct. 3, 10, 17 and 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Nov. 7 and 21 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Grandview Medical Dental, 1000 Wallace Way, Grandview. Oct. 8, 15, 22 and 29 from 3-7 p.m.
  • Sunnyside Immediate Care, 2680 Yakima Valley Highway, Suite B, Sunnyside. Oct. 7, 14, 21 and 28 from 3-7 p.m.

Yakama Indian Health Service

Flu vaccine clinics will be held outside the IHS facility at 401 Buster Road in Toppenish. Appointments aren’t necessary.

The clinics are taking place Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 8-11 a.m. Thursdays. Evening clinics will take place through Oct. 29 and are set for Mondays through Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. There will also be a flu vaccine clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 17.

Check the Facebook page for more information and updates.

Yakima Neighborhood Health Services

Patients of Yakima Neighborhood Health are being offered flu vaccines, and staff are required to get them. Neighborhood Health’s nursing staff recently gave flu shots to about 130 employees of a local grower and can do that for other growers if they request it.

Neighborhood Health will also hold two children’s immunization clinics scheduled for those who have fallen behind on their routine immunizations.

The first mobile clinic focused on children is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday at Wide Hollow Elementary School, 1000 S. 72nd Ave., Yakima. The second will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 21 at Wapato Middle School, 1309 Kateri Lane, Wapato.

The clinics aren’t free; people need to bring proof of insurance.

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