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Health officials say getting a flu shot this year is extra important

A health care provider places a band-aid on the injection site of a patient who just received a flu vaccine.
Lauren Bishop

At the same time that health officials are urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, they are also encouraging people to get vaccinated against the flu. Both vaccines are available at the Bethel hospital and village health clinics, and you can receive them on the same day.

“Get them in different arms in case you have a bad reaction so we know which arm is the one that was sore from the COVID vaccine versus the flu vaccine,” Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said during a virtual event.

Minor side effects are common with both flu or COVID-19 shots, but severe reactions are rare. Both vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness.

To get a flu vaccine at the Bethel hospital, you can show up as a walk-in on the second floor Monday through Friday between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. While there, you can also get a COVID-19 vaccine shot or booster.

Later this month, on Oct. 23, YKHC will hold a mass health event in Bethel and many villages. The event will offer flu and COVID-19 vaccinations as well as COVID-19 testing. In Bethel, the event will be held across the street from the hospital.

Health officials caution that flu vaccinations are extra important this year.

“Last year we had almost no flu season because everybody was wearing masks and social distancing. And while we don’t know for sure, but there have been times in the past when after such an absence of a flu season, the following season can have something of a rebound,” Providence Alaska Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Bernstein said during a virtual event.

Alaska health care providers want to avoid a rebound as most of the state’s health care organizations, including YKHC, are under crisis care standards. In the worst case scenario, these standards could force difficult decisions on who gets care as Alaska contends with the nation’s highest transmission rate of COVID-19.

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