At an outdoor, socially distanced media event today the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) launched a wide-ranging, months-long campaign to get 90% of Rhode Islanders vaccinated against the flu.
As Rhode Island continues to respond to COVID-19, flu shots will become available at hundreds of community clinics, schools, COVID-19 testing sites (for asymptomatic people), pharmacies, nursing homes, doctors' offices, and other sites throughout the state. Flu vaccine will lessen the chances that someone will have to deal with the serious health consequences of the flu, and it will lessen the chances that Rhode Island's healthcare system will be overburdened with both flu and COVID-19 patients in the coming months.
"While a flu vaccination rate of 90% is an ambitious goal, flu vaccination will be more important than ever this year. The simple choice to get a flu shot and make sure that your loved ones get their flu shots is a powerful step to help keep all of Rhode Island healthy and safe," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Our Health Equity Zones and other community partners throughout the state are working to make flu shots as easy and convenient as possible. This is especially true in our communities that have been hit harder by COVID-19. With the flu vaccine, we have the ability to give ourselves and our family members an extra layer of protection."
"With the current COVID-19 pandemic, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever this year – to protect ourselves, our families and our communities," said Executive Office of Health & Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones. "If we all do our part to get vaccinated for the flu, we can help save lives and reduce the burden on our healthcare system – where staff are working tirelessly to respond to COVID-19."
Most years, Rhode Island is one of the best vaccinated states in the country. During the 2018-2019 flu season, 60% of Rhode Islanders were vaccinated against the flu: 78% of children and 56% of adults. (A statewide vaccination rate is not yet complete for the 2019-2020 season.)
During the 2018-2019 flu season, the flu resulted in 1,032 hospitalizations and there were 39 flu-associated deaths. During the 2019-2020 flu season, when strict community mitigation measures were in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and when patterns of healthcare utilization were atypical, Rhode Island saw 950 hospitalizations and 20 flu-associated deaths. Many symptoms of the flu mirror symptoms of COVID-19. Both viruses can cause fever, cough, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Rhode Island has brought 150,000 more doses of flu vaccine into the state than during years past and is prepared to purchase additional vaccine. This year's vaccine protects against two influenza A strains (including the H1N1 strain) and two influenza B strains, based on what strains experts expect to be circulating in the community. Two enhanced flu vaccines will be available for seniors, both of which help create a higher immune response.
While flu shots are important for everyone older than six months of age, they are especially important for certain people, including older adults, younger children, healthcare workers, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions. Examples of chronic medical conditions include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and asthma.
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 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.
Practice the three Ws:
- Wear your mask. A mask helps prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu and COVID-19.
- Wash your hands. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel.
- Watch your distance. Whenever possible, stay six feet away from other people who are not your household contacts.
Additional steps that people can take include:
- 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.
- Disinfect high-touch surfaces regularly, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
- 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.
- List of vaccination clinics and general information about the flu: www.health.ri.gov/flu. (Evening school clinics are open to the entire community.)
- Information about the flu in Spanish: health.ri.gov/gripe
- People with additional questions can call RIDOH's Health Information Line at 401-222-5960 / RI Relay 711.