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Rapid flu spike in Northern California a reminder to get vaccine

Getting the vaccine is more important than ever. It is free to members and may be given with COVID-19 vaccines at the same time. Pictured, Ana Morales, LVN, at right, finishes giving Jazmyn Faulkner a flu shot in September at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center vaccine clinic.

Flu in Northern California and nationwide is “spreading early and extraordinarily quickly,” according to Darvin Scott Smith, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s clinical vaccine lead for Northern California.

The spike in the percentage of those testing positive, from virtually none 2 weeks ago to over 14% earlier this week, is an urgent reminder to get a free flu shot now, said Dr. Smith. Positive flu tests over 10% puts the Northern California region in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “significant community positivity.”

That threshold now allows clinicians to prescribe flu anti-viral medicine for a select group of members who are at risk for complications, including the elderly and those who live in groups and share common spaces.

The good news is that approximately 1.3 million Kaiser Permanente Northern California members have now received a flu vaccine since it became available September 11.

The spike in the percentage of those testing positive, from virtually none 2 weeks ago to over 14% earlier this week, is an urgent reminder to get a free flu shot now.

“Every member given a flu vaccine is not only protected against influenza but will also be a member without respiratory symptoms from influenza that could be confused for symptomatic COVID-19,” said Dr. Smith.  “So, our efforts to vaccinate against flu have never been more important.  We also realize safety, in particular social distancing, has never been more important.” 

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, it is safe and recommended to get a COVID-19 vaccine, whether an initial shot or booster, on the same day as a flu shot, Dr. Smith said.

“We’re trying to encourage COVID-19 vaccines to be given together with flu shots whenever possible,” said Dr. Smith. “Over the last couple of years, there was some question about getting both together, but now we know that it is fine. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe to get with other vaccines.”

Both vaccines help keep people out of the hospital, and they help prevent death, said Dr. Smith. They also take the edge off the severity of the symptoms.

According to the CDC, all of California is now designated as “high” for flu activity. Nationwide the current number of positive flu tests is not usually seen until the end of December.

Patricia Kirby, 77, of Richmond, got her flu shot in September, after learning the hard way that it is important to do so.

“One time I got real sick for a week and a half, and one of my friends who is a nurse said, ‘You gotta get the flu shot,’” said Kirby. “That was about 10 years ago, and I’ve been getting it every year since then.”

To find a Kaiser Permanente flu shot clinic near you in Northern California, visit Kaiser Permanente My Doctor Online.



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