Time to take your shot: Even in a pandemic, efforts underway to slow spread of flu

Sarah Johnson

Most years, September at Mesa County Public Health means gearing up for influenza season and the standard fall flu immunization push. Needless to say, 2020 isn’t like most years.

This year, there are two significant respiratory illnesses to consider — flu and COVID-19 —  as MCPH works to protect the health of residents. Instead of the usual early October start date, MCPH has already started offering flu immunizations and doubled the number of flu vaccines available.

A COVID-19 vaccine remains months away from approval and availability to the general public, making the flu vaccine a more important step than ever to decrease the odds you’ll get sick.

“With the flu, we have some control,” said  Allison Sanchez, public health clinic manager at MCPH. “We can get vaccinated and protect our community. We don’t have that for COVID yet, but we absolutely can have an impact on flu season.”

Employers know sick employees affect business. Absences due to illness diminish productivity as well as the morale of healthy employees who could have to pick up the resulting slack. Worried about losing pay or getting behind, some employees could even come to work sick, putting others at risk and increasing the effects on the whole workplace.

As with COVID-19, taking steps to protect yourself against the flu helps minimize disruptions by keeping others around you healthy. Employees who are also caregivers — for their children or elderly parents, for example — could have to miss work if a family member becomes ill and requires assistance. Protecting yourself also lessens the likelihood you’ll spread the virus to vulnerable people in our community.

Some groups, including older adults and people with chronic health conditions, are more likely to experience severe flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. During the 2017 and 2018 flu season, the most significant in recent years, 232 people in Mesa County were hospitalized because of influenza.

Both COVID-19 and influenza are understood to spread mainly through droplets made when infected individuals cough, sneeze or talk. Although the flu vaccine doesn’t protect against COVID-19, many of the precautions businesses have taken to protect staff and customers during the pandemic also decrease the spread of other illnesses, including influenza. Wearing face coverings, placing barriers between customers and employees and encouraging a safe distance of at least 6 feet make it more difficult for the viruses to spread from person to person.

The MCPH website at health.mesacounty.us offers information and resources for businesses related to influenza, COVID-19 and general illness prevention. You’ll find updates on flu immunization opportunities, a toolkit for businesses and printable signs about face coverings, symptoms to watch for and tips to stop the spread of germs.

Among adults in Mesa County, about 40 percent report getting an annual flu shot. During this year of increased potential for illness, get a flu vaccine and encourage others around you to do the same. When we take steps to protect ourselves from influenza, we protect the rest of the community as well.

Flu vaccines are available at MCPH and several area pharmacies and health care offices. The MCPH clinic is open 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon Friday. Call 248-6900 to schedule an appointment. Walk-ins are welcome.

MCPH has scheduled drive-through vaccination clinics Oct. 17 and 24 at the Mesa County Fairgrounds. Registration is required. Details will be posted online at health.mesacounty.us in late September.