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Public Health, Healthcare Leaders Kick Off Annual Flu Vaccination Campaign

Coming off the most severe flu season that Rhode Island has seen in almost a decade, public health and healthcare leaders launched the state's annual flu vaccination campaign today with reminders about how critical flu shots are for everyone six months of age and older.

"A flu shot is the single best way to protect yourself and the ones you love against the flu. When you get a flu shot you are not only protecting yourself, you are also protecting the people in your life by limiting the spread of the flu. This is especially important if you spend time with younger children or the elderly, who are more susceptible to the effects of the flu," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH). "Even if you don't have health insurance or can't afford a flu shot, there are places in Rhode Island where you can get vaccinated for free. Earlier this week, public flu clinics opened at schools throughout the state and clinics will be happening in different cities and towns for the next two months. Flu shots are safe, effective, and easier to get than ever before."

Last year, the flu sent 1,390 Rhode Islanders to the hospital and resulted in 60 deaths (compared to 1,216 hospitalizations and 33 deaths the previous year). Rhode Island saw more flu during the 2017-2018 flu season than during any flu season since the 2009-2010 season, when the state experienced the H1N1 flu pandemic.

Although doctors recommend flu shots for everyone six months of age and older, flu shots are especially important for certain people. They include the elderly, healthcare workers, younger children, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions. Examples of chronic medical conditions include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and asthma.

The event at the West Warwick Senior and Community Center was attended by Ana Novais, Executive Director of RIDOH; Jeanne LaChance, President/CEO of Thundermist Health Center; James E. Fanale, MD, President and CEO of Care New England; Latha Sivaprasad, MD, Senior VP and Chief Medical Officer for Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children's Hospital; Kimberly O'Connell, VP and Chief Strategy Officer for South County Health; and John Holiver, CEO of CharterCARE Health Partners.

"Thundermist Health Center is proud to partner with the Rhode Island Department of Health and West Warwick Health Equity Zone to kick off flu vaccinations in Rhode Island," said Jeanne LaChance, president/CEO of Thundermist Health Center. "We encourage everyone, especially those most at risk, to get vaccinated right away."

"We at Lifespan are proud to partner in this statewide effort to increase awareness, promote immunization and decrease the spread of influenza and other viral respiratory illnesses," said Latha Sivaprasad, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer of Rhode Island Hospital and its Hasbro Children's Hospital. "Our healthcare providers are on the front lines of identifying, treating and containing influenza. Through efforts like enhancing our visitor screenings this year, rapidly identifying new patients with respiratory viral symptoms, and providing immunizations to our staff members, our hospitals intend to suppress the spread of flu this season."

"We know that the best way to protect against the flu virus is for people to get vaccinated every year. But it is also important for people to see their primary care providers regularly rather than waiting and going to the ER when they think they might have the flu," said James E. Fanale, MD, president and CEO, Care New England. "By getting vaccinated, healthcare workers not only protect themselves, but also help protect the vulnerable patients they care for. We are proud that Care New England has exceeded the Healthy People 2020 goal of having 90 percent of our workforce vaccinated. Moreover, our goal is to reach and sustain staff vaccination rates greater than 95 percent system-wide. We know this is crucial to the health and well-being of our workforce and also of the communities we serve."

"As CEO of CharterCARE and board chairman of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, I can tell you that this issue is one that hospitals in Rhode Island take seriously. It is well known that vaccination is your best protection against the flu," said John Holiver, CEO of CharterCARE Health Partners. "Flu clinics like the one today and the more than 30 that CharterCARE is conducting over the next couple months are a great way to help protect vulnerable Rhode Islanders. I encourage everyone to seek out a clinic or visit a flu vaccine provider to make themselves, their family, and their co-workers safer during this flu season."

Approximately 480,000 Rhode Islanders were vaccinated last year. Rhode Island had the highest flu vaccination rate among children in the nation last year (76%). However, RIDOH is working to increase Rhode Island's vaccination rate for the 2018-2019 flu season. A list of evening flu clinics that are located at schools and are open to the entire community is available at www.health.ri.gov/flu. Flu shots are also available at other community clinics, doctors' offices, and pharmacies.

After getting a flu shot some people experience a slight ache or a low-grade fever. This means that the body is developing an immune response to the flu virus. These mild side effects are much less significant than the actual flu, which causes most people to stay in bed for a week. You absolutely cannot get the flu from the flu shot.

In addition to getting vaccinated against the flu, Rhode Islanders can take other steps to stay healthy and safe this flu season.

- Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel. - Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Flu is spread through coughing or sneezing on other people or into your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent others from getting sick. - Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way. - Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods. - Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.

Thundermist Health Center is the backbone agency of the West Warwick Health Equity Zone (HEZ). HEZs are community-led collaboratives in nine regions throughout the state that are working to address the underlying factors in communities that have the greatest impact on health outcomes. These underlying, community-level factors include things like access to fresh fruits and vegetables, transportation, quality education, job opportunities, social supports, and healthy housing. Each of Rhode Island's nine HEZs have a backbone agency. More information about the HEZs is available at www.health.ri.gov/hez

People with additional questions can call 401-222-5960 / RI Relay 711.

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