‘We don’t want a flu epidemic on top of a pandemic’: Health officials urge residents to get flu shot


HONOLULU (KHON2) — Flu season is coming amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and health officials are encouraging everyone to get their flu shots.

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“We could actually weather this storm,” said Queen’s Health System CEO Dr. Jill Hoggard Green. “If we don’t and if we don’t get vaccinated and have a flu epidemic on top of the pandemic, that can be so devastating to our community. So, I’m really hoping that all of us get our flu vaccinations.”

COVID and flu symptoms are similar so officials say getting a flu shot ahead of time can help rule out the possibility of having the flu if you start feeling ill.

“When I’m working in the emergency department for me to figure out, is this COVID or this influenza? You just can’t tell because both can present very differently between people,” explained Dr. Rick Bruno who is the Senior Vice President and an emergency room doctor at Queen’s Health System.

“Having COVID-19 in addition to flu virus circulating and people getting sick can definitely overwhelm our system rather quickly,” explained Hawaii Department of Health Immunization Branch Chief Ronald Balajadia.

According to the CDC, anywhere between 20,000 and 60,000 people die from the flu every year but with the current guidance in place, experts are hopeful numbers stay low.

“If you look at Australia and New Zealand, who usually have the flu seasons first, because everyone was wearing their mask, and they got vaccines, they actually had a lower flu volume than they’ve had in the past. That’s what we want to see,” explained Dr. Hoggard Green.

Health officials said children as young as six months can get a flu shot and experts say it’s important to do so before in-class learning resumes.

“The flu shot is safe to get,” said Dr. Bruno. “I can say with confidence that millions of people are immunized every year. It is a very safe vaccine.”

“Places where people congregate like classrooms, it’s very important that people are immunized so we don’t spread the disease,” he continued.

Balajadia explained that the flu, like COVID-19, can be spread by children in classrooms and then brought home to family members.

“Most importantly this year in the presence of COVID-19 virus circulating in our community is really, really highly recommended everyone get their flu vaccinations,” he said.  

Queen’s Health Systems CEO said it’s important everyone continues to wear their masks, wash their hands and social distance to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the flu.

“All of those things together could really make a difference in the life of your loved one, in your health and well-being and in the people that you care about,” she said.  

“But let’s prevent it. Let’s do everything we can to reduce pain and suffering this year. And I believe we can together,” she continued.  

Queen’s said that it’s getting ready to launch its own internal flu campaign to get their staff vaccinated.

The Hawaii Department of Education said it will offer immunizations at certain schools statewide.

The flu shot is already available in Hawaii.

Kaiser Permanente is hosting a drive-thru flu clinic on Saturday, Sept. 12, at its Waipio and Koolau (Kaneohe) locations from 8 a.m. until noon.

Kaiser asks people to wear their masks when driving-thru and to wear a short-sleeve shirt, and to bring a Driver’s Licence or State I.D. and their Kaiser card.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals make plans to get vaccinated early in the fall, before flu season begins, and ideally no later than the end of October. Flu shots are now available at CVS Pharmacy (Longs Drugs) and MinuteClinic.

According to CVS Pharmacy, patients will also be able to make vaccination appointments with a pharmacist by visiting CVS.com, the CVS app, or by texting FLU to 287898. They also will be able to complete a digital intake form prior to their visit to limit in-person contact at the time of vaccination.

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