JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With the official start of fall just two weeks away, flu season will be here before we know it.
Like last year, the Duval County Medical Society Foundation is spreading the word about the importance of getting vaccinated -- not just against COVID-19, but also against the flu.
The initiative is called #FluVaxJax.
Baptist Health Allergist and Immunologist Dr. Sunil Joshi said there is no issue caused by mixing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine with the flu shot.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were first getting the COVID vaccine out, we were having people wait two weeks after the COVID vaccine before they got the flu shot, or vice versa," Joshi said. "We no longer think that's necessary. So somebody is out to get their COVID booster or their first COVID vaccine today, they can also get the flu shot today as well."
Joshi said that makes it more convenient for people, so that they don't have to return to the pharmacy three or more times to complete their vaccine series.
Last year's flu season was very light, Joshi said, largely due to people practicing social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large indoor events making it less likely to spread flu viruses.
"There's some data that suggests that there was a 75% reduction in emergency room visits for the flu," Joshi said. "And just for perspective, in the 2019-2020 flu season, we had roughly 200 children die from the flu. In the 2020-2021 flu season in the United States, we only had one child die from the flu."
Joshi said mitigation measures put in place throughout the country to limit the spread of COVID-19 also had a big role to play in limiting the spread of the flu, as well as flu vaccine rates increasing throughout the country last year.
But, with mitigation strategies being relaxed in many places across the country, Joshi is concerned the number of flu cases will increase. And that could mean more people in our area's hospitals.
"Though they are becoming less full compared to where they were three or four weeks ago, they still have a very large number of COVID patients in there," Joshi said. "As we start to approach the flu season, if we start to fill the hospitals up with flu patients as well, we could get right back to having a crisis like we were having a few weeks ago."
Adults who receive a flu vaccine are 80% less likely to require an ICU admission if they do get the flu, Joshi said. Children are 70% less likely to require pediatric ICU admission if they get vaccinated and contract the flu.
The flu shot is free for people with private insurance, Joshi said, and normally costs between $35 to $55 for those without insurance. That's around $200 for a family of four.
"It is important to understand that and there are a lot of folks in our community, we have over 100,000 people in Jacksonville who are uninsured, who may not be able to afford the flu shot," Joshi said. "And so we do offer free flu vaccine vouchers on our website, fluvaxjax.com."
Those who are interested in a voucher can enter their name, email address and ZIP code for a flu vaccine voucher in a nearby area.