HELENA — Influenza vaccine signs have begun popping up at pharmacies across Montana.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) say it’s more important than ever to get a flu shot this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“It’s going to be really important this year as we move into a flu season where we’re really trying to protect ourselves, but more importantly getting a flu vaccine can protect those around us,” said Montana Immunization Program Manager Bekki Wehner.
“I would encourage everyone to do it. Even if you feel like you don’t get sick every year or you’ve never had the flu, consider those around you in taking that flu vaccine to protect everyone else," she added.
DPHHS officials are recommending that people get an influenza vaccine during September or October this year, and not to wait until the flu season arrives.
“We are considering that the flu is going to look a lot like COVID,” Wehner said. “Reducing the amount of respiratory illnesses in the community is really going to help our healthcare providers and keep those hospitalizations down.”
DPHHS recommends anyone over six months old should get their flu shot this year if they’re able. Qualifying families can get child immunization assistance at no cost through the Vaccines for Children program.
While any flu season has the chance of stressing the healthcare system with related hospitalizations, combined with COVID-19, it could overburden hospitals and other healthcare workers currently responding to the pandemic.
Montanan saw more than 11,000 confirmed influenza cases last flu season, resulting in over 500 hospitalizations.
“We don’t know what this season is like because of COVID, and really flu is very unpredictable,” said DPHHS epidemiologist Stacey Anderson. “In order to keep the burden on the healthcare system down as best we can. Keep trying to do those preventative measures to prevent people from getting the flu.”
Preventing the spread of influenza if very similar to COVID precautions. Anderson says social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands and avoiding face touching are all great ways as preventing the spread of the virus,
The yearly influenza vaccine is not 100% effective, but the more people that are vaccinated against the disease make it more difficult for the virus to spread.