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Health Officials Kick Off Flu Vaccination Campaign

Leaders from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and Providence Community Health Centers (PCHC) gathered today at PCHC's Chafee Health Center to officially kick off Rhode Island's 2022-2023 flu vaccination campaign.

"Rhode Island is a national leader for COVID-19 vaccination. Now it's time for us to be national leaders with our flu vaccination rate," said Governor McKee. "Getting a flu shot is your best protection against serious illness from the flu, and it's also the best way to protect the people you love. If you're like me and plan to get together with family and friends for the holidays over the coming weeks and months, the time to get vaccinated is now."

The attendees at the event included Merrill Thomas, Chief Executive Officer for PCHC; Dr. Andrew Saal, Chief Medical Officer for PCHC; and Dr. Philip Chan, a Consultant Medical Director for RIDOH's Division of Preparedness, Response, Infectious Disease and Emergency Medical Services.

"Even if you are healthy, you can still spread the flu to someone older or with a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes," says Dr. Andrew Saal, Chief Medical Officer of the Providence Community Health Centers. "Flu vaccines are one of the easiest things we can do to interrupt the spread of the virus in our community. Take five minutes today to help protect your mom, your dad, your family, and everyone in our community."

"It's important to get your flu shot every year," said Acting EOHHS Secretary Ana Novais. "Local pharmacies, health centers, and primary care providers have plenty of vaccine on site. We are grateful for our partnerships in the community, including those with community-based providers, work-site clinics, and schools as we work to protect all Rhode Islanders. Vaccinations are an important part of disease prevention – please join us in protecting your family and loved ones, and get your flu shot scheduled today."

"For the past two flu seasons, our flu rates have been at historic lows because of masking, social distancing, and other measures related to COVID-19. As things get back to normal, we could see a severe flu season," said Dr. Chan. "This makes it that much more important to get your flu shot and to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. You can get your flu shot and your COVID-19 booster at the same time. Both the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine help decrease the severity and duration of illness if you do get sick, and they help keep you out of the hospital."

The flu is a serious virus. During typical flu seasons prior to COVID-19, the flu would result in more than 1,000 hospitalizations and many fatalities. For example, during the 2018-2019 flu season, the flu resulted in 1,032 hospitalizations and there were 39 flu-associated deaths.

RIDOH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend flu shots for everyone older than six months of age. Flu shots are especially important for certain people, including:

- Anyone 50 and older (CDC recommends the use of specific flu vaccines for adults 65 years and older, including higher dose and adjuvanted flu vaccines),

- Healthcare workers,

- Anyone who lives in a long-term care facility,

- Children younger than 5 years of age,

- People who are pregnant, and

- People with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and asthma.

There are many places in Rhode Island where flu shots are available at no out-of-pocket cost and are available to people without health insurance. Those locations include clinics at schools that are open to all Rhode Islanders, some pharmacies, and other vaccination venues that RIDOH partners with. Additionally, vaccine is available in the offices of many primary care providers and at community clinics, such as worksite clinics.

After getting a flu shot, some people may experience a slight ache at the injection site or a low-grade fever. That means the vaccine is working—your body is learning to fight the virus. These mild symptoms 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 flu vaccination, RIDOH and CDC also recommend that Rhode Islanders stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccine. Newer COVID-19 boosters are bivalent, meaning that they help protect against two strains of COVID-19, the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 and the Omicron variant, which is causing most current cases. Everyone five or older who has received a primary series of COVID-19 vaccine should get a bivalent booster at least two months after their last dose. This recommendation applies no matter how many boosters a person has already received. For example, if a person received their primary series and two booster doses, they should still get a bivalent booster at least two months after their last booster dose.

In addition to getting vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, Rhode Islanders can take other steps to stay healthy and safe over the coming months.

- Wash your hands often during 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 to prevent other people from getting sick.

- Stay home if you are sick.

- Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.

Additional resources:

- List of vaccination clinics and general information about the flu: health.ri.gov/flu

- Information about the flu in Spanish: health.ri.gov/gripe

- People with additional questions, including questions about where to get vaccinated if you do not have insurance, can call the Health Information Line at 401-222-5960 / RI Relay 711.

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