Flu shots a key part of keeping hospitals freed up this winter

FAR WEST TEXAS — Medical experts are hoping to see a decline in flu cases this season, that is, if folks get their flu shots and continue the lessons from COVID-19 that have been reinforced again and again this year: wash your hands, cover your mouth and stay home if you have respiratory symptoms.

Flu season can run from fall through winter and into early spring, so local medical professionals like Christina Wright, a nurse at the Department of State Health Services clinic in Marfa, are urging local residents to get immunized. “What we’re hoping is that with the face mask use and social distancing, we should see a decline in numbers,” Wright said.

But with COVID-19 in play, the nurse says there are some additional challenges in assuring that community members get their flu vaccines. “From a nursing perspective, my concern is, the thing we’ve been messaging is for seniors to stay away from public places and only seek medical care and go to a clinic if they need to,” Wright said. “That’s good advice for COVID, but I don’t want people to put off receiving a vaccine.”

From babies to the elderly, the flu vaccine is recommended for all, according to Wright. DSHS has hosted off-site clinics that offer free vaccinations to uninsured children and adults, children on Medicaid and underinsured Native American/Native Alaskans.

However, at the DSHS clinics in Marfa and Presidio, the state entity is offering free vaccines to any in the above categories. They are open Mondays in Marfa from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesdays in Presidio from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Also in Marfa, Alpine and Presidio, Preventative Care Health Services says it is stocked with flu shots in all locations. In Marfa, the shot can be administered to you in the parking lot to avoid any extra and unnecessary contact points during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for Marfa Clinic, residents should keep checking in. The clinic says it’s experienced supply shortages this year as it tries to get more flu vaccines and currently has a waitlist for people hoping to receive them. For those paying out-of-pocket, the clinic charges $30 for flu shots, or $90 for people over 65. That said, most insurance plans cover the full cost.

And the more community members get the vaccine, the smaller the chance for it to spread through the community to the most vulnerable. According to Wright, “If only a few people receive the vaccine, it doesn’t work as effectively as if there is a collective who are vaccinated.”

In an announcement encouraging the vaccine, DSHS’s press office wrote, “While the flu shot won’t prevent COVID-19, it will slow the circulation of flu in Texas and keep people out of the hospital, conserving medical resources needed to care for COVID-19 patients.”

“We want as few people as possible to get sick this fall and winter,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner, in the release. “That protects our health care professionals and health care system, which is key to defeating both COVID-19 and the flu.”

“Typically, we experience 30,000 fatalities due to influenza, and it typically targets the same population that we’re seeing with COVID, the elderly,” Wright told The Big Bend Sentinel. Since healthcare is kind of at its bursting point right now dealing with COVID, we really want to make sure people keep up with their immunizations.”