It’s roughly Month 7 of the pandemic and Week 4 of wildfire season. Unfortunately, we have one more concern to add to your plate: It’s time to get a flu shot.
Thousands of people die every year from the flu. The CDC estimates that in the 2019-20 flu season, there were as many as 740,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 24,000 to 62,000 flu-related deaths in the United States.
If people maintain their social distancing protocols through fall, we may experience a less deadly flu season than normal. You’re a lot less likely to catch the flu sitting in your house. But as coronavirus rates start to come down in some parts of the country, there’s a fear that eased restrictions or even just a perception of reduced risk will lead to a “twindemic” — a rough flu season on top of COVID-19.
The bottom line: Get a flu shot.
“The flu vaccine is important in all years, but this year it’s even more important,” said Robert Kim-Farley, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
That applies even if you’re working from home and limiting trips and seeing no one, he said.
“As much as we try to be careful, we still are going to have need sometimes of being exposed when we go out on an essential errand, even if we try to practice good physical distancing, hand-washing, et cetera,” he said. “You just never can be totally certain.”
And in case you were wondering, no, that elderberry syrup protocol doesn’t replace a flu shot either.
How to find a flu shot
The website VaccineFinder.org lets you find locations for immunizations anywhere in the country. The options for the flu shot include the standard vaccine for those 18 and older, as well as alternatives for children, seniors, the nasal spray and an egg-free variant. Results will include pharmacies, grocery stores with pharmacy locations inside, urgent care centers, and other medical clinics.
Your local pharmacy will likely have flu shots in stock soon, if it doesn’t already. Call ahead to make sure before you show up. CVS and Walgreens are offering online scheduling for flu shots. Here’s the link to make a flu vaccine appointment with CVS, and here is the link to schedule a flu shot at Walgreens.
If you have a doctor’s visit of any kind scheduled in the near future, call their office and ask if they have any in stock.
Flu shot clinics also will be offered at health centers around Los Angeles and L.A. County Library locations. Though the dates and locations haven’t been announced yet, the system is set to post information on library flu shot clinics, and the county Public Health Department has a full list of public health centers that should offer flu shot clinics sometime this fall.
Most flu shots are free with insurance or are offered at a low cost. Flu shots are required to be provided at no cost under the Affordable Care Act, though you may have to reach out to your insurer directly to find out if you need to go to a specific provider or location to get the shot for free. Kaiser Permanente walk-in clinics began offering flu shots as of Sept. 1. If you’re insured by Medi-Cal, find a primary care physician or pharmacy using their provider finder tool or pharmacy finder tool, or by calling member services at (877) 658-0305. Flu shots are available at no cost under Medi-Cal.
How effective is this year’s flu shot?
It’s too early to know how effective this year’s flu shot will be. This year’s vaccine has been updated with different strains from last year’s, Kim-Farley said. Even if you catch the flu, having gotten the shot can lessen the disease’s length and severity.
Getting a flu shot this year is “particularly important to reduce the stress on the healthcare system, and to reduce the risk of having flu and COVID at the same time,” Kim-Farley said.
So mask up, make a plan, and protect yourself.