Kaiser Permanente is offering members free flu shots at sites across Northern California to protect against severe complications, hospitalizations and even death from the virus that circulates each fall and winter.
Elizabeth Ortega, 22, of Richmond, got her flu shot on the first day the clinic opened at the Richmond Medical Center earlier this month.
“I want to keep myself healthy, and I want to set an example for the rest of my family that it’s important to keep up on your vaccinations,” said Ortega, whose mother was severely ill for a month from COVID-19 in 2020 before the vaccination for that virus was available.
No appointments needed
No appointment is necessary at any of the Kaiser Permanente flu shot clinics in Northern California. For members who don’t like needles, and who are age two to 49, a nasal spray is available. The spray is not for pregnant people or those who are immunocompromised.
There is good news from five South American countries monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that people who received this year’s flu vaccine there were half as likely to be hospitalized compared to people who did not get the vaccine during the recently concluded flu season.
Health officials are hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s flu season when 670 people died of the flu in California, most of them over age 65. The previous year, when people were isolating and wearing masks in public more often, 151 people died statewide. Keeping fatalities down this year could be a difficult task as more and more people will gather unmasked and indoors when temperatures begin to drop outside.
“I am hopeful this year will be different, although it may be challenging because this will be the first year we expect most people to return to pre-pandemic behaviors like meeting up with friends and family for the holidays, which are events that tend to spread the flu and other respiratory viruses,” said Connie Park, MD, Kaiser Permanente Northern California clinical lead for the Regional Flu Program.
Last year was severe, she said because flu, COVID-19, and RSV were circulating at the same time and because fewer people got the shot than the previous year.
Dr. Park said typically about 55% of Kaiser Permanente members in Northern California get the flu shot. But last year, possibly due to vaccine fatigue from three years of the pandemic, only about 45% got vaccinated against the flu.
Busting the flu vaccine myth
One common reason people decide not to get the flu vaccine is that in the past they might have gotten the vaccine but still got the flu, and they don’t see the point, said Dr. Park.
“It is true you can still get the flu after you get the shot, but all these vaccines are really about staving off the severity, so you may get a milder case with less severe symptoms or lower the chance of getting a serious complication like pneumonia, hospitalization, or even death,” she said.
Nurse Manager Tom Bradley, RN who is overseeing five flu clinics in Richmond, Berkeley, Alameda, Oakland and Pinole, said he is making it as easy as possible for people to walk up and get the vaccine as quickly as possible.
“Our model is to be super flexible and to adjust to demand, so we don’t have any lines,” said Bradley. “We’ve even created 17 new mobile flu carts on wheels we can bring to different clinics to help with surges in demand. Our goal is to give as many flu shots as possible.”