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‘Facing the Flu Together’: New campaign spreads word about importance of influenza vaccine

A line of vaccine-filled vials is pictured. Getting a flu shot can help protect yourself and your community during flu season, local health officials said. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched a new campaign on Aug. 25 urging residents to get the flu vaccine this fall.

The statewide campaign, titled “Facing the Flu Together,” aims to ramp up influenza vaccinations by 33% in a year where it’s potentially more critical than ever.

According to a press release from the MDHHS, the state is “encouraging Michiganders to get their flu vaccine this fall and help prevent an outbreak of a second communicable disease that — with COVID-19 still very much a concern — could put our state’s economy and health care system at greater risk.”

MDHHS estimates 3.2 million people in Michigan received the vaccine last flu season, but to reach the target, over 4 million people will need to be vaccinated this year.

“It’s more important than ever for Michiganders everywhere to get your flu vaccine,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the release. “Preventing the flu will help us save lives and preserve the health care resources we need to continue fighting COVID-19.

“Every flu-related hospitalization we see this season will put an additional strain on Michigan’s economy and our health care systems and hospitals. Our hospitals are still reeling from the spring COVID-19 hospitalizations and are working to prepare for a potential second wave of the virus. I encourage everyone to get their flu vaccine, and tell your friends and family to do the same.”

According to the release, “Facing the Flu Together” will reach audiences across Michigan via TV, social and digital media, podcasts, print and radio advertising. The campaign officially launched on Aug. 31 and will primarily target the most vulnerable and at-risk populations throughout the state.

From a local standpoint, Jean Reynolds, a registered nurse with the Marquette County Health Department, said they’ve worked to increase the availability of the flu vaccine in the region this year.

“We started putting flu shot clinics together in early August this year,” she said. “It’s been a bigger challenge this year because of COVID, but we’re trying to work on getting it available as soon as possible so it’s really easy to get. We’re hoping to set up drive-thru testing sites also, which we haven’t had in a couple of years, for those who might be afraid to go in somewhere and get vaccinated.”

Reynolds added that people should get vaccinated before the end of October if possible.

“Ideally, people should get their flu shots before the end of October,” she said. “We don’t want to have simultaneous illnesses hitting. October is when we usually start seeing the flu, and we don’t want that happening at the same time as COVID.

of October,” she said. “We don’t want to have simultaneous illnesses hitting. October is when we usually start seeing the flu, and we don’t want that happening at the same time as COVID.

“If people can get acclimated early on, that would be great. We’re going to target the more vulnerable populations the most, but anybody six months and older should get vaccinated for the flu.”

Six children in Michigan died from influenza during the 2019-20 flu season as well as 187 children in the United States. According to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. recorded an estimated 39 to 56 million cases of influenza, 18 to 26 million medical visits, and nearly half a million flu hospitalizations. The MDHHS release states that “despite its comparison to the common cold, the flu is a very serious and potentially deadly disease, especially for children, older people and people with chronic health conditions.”

Reynolds said there are many locations throughout Marquette County to get the flu vaccine, including the aforementioned clinics and drive-thru sites which will be announced at a later date, but you should always contact your primary care provider first.

“We have a lot of doctors here,” she said. “Some are having clinics to see their own patients, so people should look for those first. If you don’t have a provider, reach out to the Marquette County Health Department. We’ll be hosting clinics very soon.

“The state is also providing flu vaccines for those uninsured or under-insured this year. We haven’t had that in the past, and we want to get the word out about that for those who have a lack of insurance.”

Medical professionals aren’t quite sure what the flu season will look like in the age of coronavirus, and when asked how people will be able to differentiate between whether they have influenza or COVID-19, Reynolds said to simply keep following protocols and guidelines before anything else.

“Stay home if you’re sick and stay away from other people,” she said. “Keep following all of the public health messaging and reach out to your primary care provider. This is why we want to get people vaccinated.

“Flu vaccines are safe, effective and have been around for a long time. If you have any questions about safety or effectiveness, reach out to us at the Health Department. Nurses are always available and love to talk.”

The MDHHS recommends that Michiganders contact their local health departments, physicians and pharmacies to schedule a time to get the flu shot as the flu vaccine becomes available. Call the Marquette County Health Department at 906-475-9977, or visit IVaccinate.org or Michigan.gov/Flu for more information.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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