As COVID-19 cases are rising and flu season begins, state and local health officials are urging Alaskans to get vaccinated for influenza and are providing ways for them to do it for free.
Two vaccine clinics will be open this weekend, on Saturday for older children and adults and on Sunday for those as young as six months and adults.
On Saturday at Thunder Mountain High School, children ages nine or older and adults can receive free flu vaccines from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, children as young as six months and older and adults can get free vaccines at Floyd Dryden Middle School during the same hours.
The clinics are a joint effort among Alaska Division of Public Health, Bartlett Regional Hospital, City and Borough of Juneau and Juneau School District, CBJ said in a news release.
“When people get vaccinated for flu it helps us reduce overall disease,” said Sarah Hargrave, southeast regional nurse manager for Alaska Division of Public Health. “Viral transmission increase during the winter months. What used to be cold and flu season has now become cold, flu and COVID season.”
As of Thursday afternoon there were no known influenza cases in Juneau, Hargrave said in a phone interview, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting a flu shot every year, especially for those over 65 and those with chronic health conditions.
The weekend’s flu clinics will serve another purpose as well, Hargrave said. Once a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, federal, state and local health officials will have to work together to distribute it to the public and the flu clinics will provide an opportunity for local health officials to practice, she said.
Fortunately for Alaska, the state has had a vaccine distribution plan in place since 2015, and recently submitted a draft coronavirus vaccine plan to the CDC.
Though the flu and COVID-19 may appear similar, state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said in a news conference Thursday, influenza is typically far less severe.
“COVID hospitalizations and deaths are much higher with people who are older and have underlying health conditions,” he said. “There’s a lot of respiratory complications, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome.”
McLaughlin cited a recently published report from the CDC that studied influenza versus COVID-19 in hospitalized patients in the Veterans Health Administration.
“Hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in the Veterans Health Administration had a more than five times higher risk for in-hospital death and increased risk for 17 respiratory and nonrespiratory complications than did hospitalized patients with influenza,” the report’s summary says. “The risks for sepsis and respiratory, neurologic, and renal complications of COVID-19 were higher among non-Hispanic Black or African American and Hispanic patients than among non-Hispanic White patients.”
Hargrave too, said influenza and COVID are different diseases, and comparing the state’s current mortality from the coronavirus to past year’s influenza deaths were not comparable figures.
“We know that the mortality rate is much higher. The pandemic really didn’t start for us until March, typically that’s the tail end of flu season,” she said. “In prior years, we didn’t do these strict and widespread mitigation measures. That’s (68) deaths when schools are closed, when theaters are closed. It’s a not comparable number.”
The state has so far reported 68 deaths from COVID-19, and announced an additional 210 new cases Thursday. CBJ announced seven additional cases two days after raising the health alert level and triggering mandatory health measures. State health officials strongly urged Alaskans to follow health precautions especially masking, social distancing, and limiting one’s social circle.
“We determine the impact,” Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink said in the Thursday conference. “We determine our fate as a society, as a community. The difference comes from Alaskans working together collectively.”
Know and Go
Drive-thru clinic will be open this weekend from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with only one clinic open each day. Patients are asked to wear a short-sleeved shirt and bring a pen and writing surface to minimize contact.
On Saturday: Vaccines will be given at Thunder Mountain High School to children ages nine or older and adults. Vehicles are asked to enter from the rear entrance off Riverside Drive. A traffic flow map can be found here.
On Sunday: Children as young as six months and older and adults can get vaccines at Floyd Dryden Middle School.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.