By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD — With the coronavirus pandemic tying up essential medical services this year, Kitsap health officials stress it is more important than ever to get a flu shot to maintain your health and avoid needing medical attention.
“We’ve seen what COVID can do to hospitals. Hospitals and clinics are going to be busy this fall,” said Dr. Nathan “Gib” Morrow, Kitsap Public Health District health officer. “Our health system is going to be strained this year.
“For anybody who develops flu-like symptoms, they are going to need COVID testing and that’s a whole level of health care expense that is preventable,” Morrow said at this month’s public health board meeting.
The flu [influenza] is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, according to the state Department of Health. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions, are at higher risk of serious flu complications.
A flu vaccine should be given to anyone six months or older, according to state health officials.
Getting a flu shot does not prevent COVID-19 or other respiratory infections but will reduce the chance of getting the flu, officials said.
“Flu shots are proven to work and are cost-effective. They keep people out of medical settings. They protect not only recipients of the flu shot themselves but others in the community,” Morrow said.
“For every dollar spent on a flu shot, we save money in the health care system. Flu shots are safe and effective — we have been giving them over 50 years. They work. We really need to make sure people get their flu shots.”
But that’s easier said than accomplished.
Vaccinations in Kitsap County have dipped since the arrival of the pandemic in March.
“People stopped going to their clinics,” Morrow said. As an example, he said that with children younger than 18 in Kitsap County, vaccination rates dropped 46 percent in April, 31 percent in May and a little over 21 percent in June.
“We do want to correct this,” Morrow said.
A series of free flu vaccine clinics have been scheduled throughout Kitsap County. The South Kitsap clinic will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 13 at South Kitsap Helpline, 1012 Mitchell Ave. in Port Orchard. A complete list of clinics is available on the Kitsap Public Health website at kitsappublichealth.org.
The clinics are open for adults ages 19 and older who are uninsured or underinsured.
To avoid getting and spreading the flu, public health officials recommend taking the same steps to prevent COVID-19 — stay home if you feel sick, wash your hands frequently, use sanitizer, maintain physical distancing and wear a cloth face covering when around others.
To get a flu shot, call your health care provider for an appointment or visit the Knockoutflu.org website to find a nearby location.