As Flu Season Approaches, Austin Health Officials Urge People To Get Vaccinated
As flu season begins, Austin health officials are urging people to get vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19 to prevent hospitals from being strained more than they already are.
Local hospitals have already been pushed to operate beyond their normal capacity because of a recent surge in COVID-19 patients spurred by the highly contagious delta variant. The average number of people in Austin intensive care units has been sitting just above 200, the capacity limit, over the last week. The vast majority of those COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. There’s also a shortage of ICU nurses to care for these patients.
“We have people who are receiving ICU-level care outside of the ICU setting, and in some instances they’re being cared for by nurses who are not ICU nurses because we still have continued staffing shortages,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said during a news conference on Friday.
Flu season begins in the U.S. around October and can last into May. Last year, the number of flu cases in the Austin area remained low because people were wearing masks and social distancing to keep from getting COVID-19 — actions that also slow the spread of flu.
It’s recommended that everyone aged 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine before the end of October, but they can still get the vaccine almost year-round, according to Austin Public Health.
The health department says vaccines for the flu and COVID-19 can be administered at the same time.
“You have two arms, get two shots — one for flu, and if you aren’t fully vaccinated or need a third dose because you’re immunocompromised, one for COVID,” interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said in a press release. “If you’re waiting for COVID boosters to be approved, it’s still a good time to get your flu vaccination and help protect our community from another outbreak.”
The vaccines are available at locations around the city, like doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies and through many employers and schools. You can find a shot at VaccineFinder.org.
Flu shots for uninsured children and adults and Medicaid recipients are also available at Shots for Tots/Big Shots clinics. The vaccine is $25 for adults and $10 for children, and is free for children with Medicaid. People won’t be denied, though, if they cannot pay, APH says. You can make an appointment by calling 512-972-5520.
Austin Public Health’s Cassandra DeLeon also said last week that Austin Public Health is planning to roll out joint flu and vaccine clinics throughout the fall.
“We’re excited to be able to make that service available to the community,” she said. “But there are so many providers that are available. So, we really want to encourage individuals to get vaccinated, get both the [flu and COVID vaccines] so that you can have that protection for yourself and your family.”
Health officials say it’s particularly important for people at high-risk of severe illness from the flu get the flu vaccine as soon as possible. Adults over 65, people who are pregnant, people with chronic medical conditions and health care workers and caregivers are considered high-risk.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, congested nose, body aches, headaches and severe fatigue. Like with COVID-19, people can protect themselves from getting the flu by wearing a mask, avoiding touching the face, avoiding others who are sick, staying home when sick and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.