Medical professionals across the United States are stressing the importance of flu shots during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within Western Alaska, Norton Sound Health Corporation has set up flu clinics with free flu shots in Nome and regional villages.

Extra precautions have to be taken when giving vaccinations this year. NSHC Pharmacist Kathryn Sawyer explains that the old Nome Youth Facility provides a spacious location to accommodate for social distancing while giving flu shots.

“We’re able to spread out the chairs, we’re able to spread out any patients that show up. We sanitize all of the supplies, clipboards, pens, anything individuals might be touching.” 

Each village community has its clinic at a different time and locals should call their clinic for those dates.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has some regional villages in the Norton Sound on lockdown. In those communities, clinic staff will go to families instead of having them come to the clinic.

“They’re calling up the homes and then going to the home and vaccinating everybody that is interested in getting a vaccine so it’s all door to door in our villages to help with social distancing.”

– Kathryn Sawyer with NSHC

The flu can potentially be deadly for vulnerable populations like the elderly, very young children, or those who are immunocompromised. High-risk groups include pregnant individuals, those with chronic lung or heart disease, chemotherapy patients, and people with auto-immune diseases like HIV/AIDS or diabetes.

Someone fighting the flu can still contract another disease like COVID-19. Some symptoms are similar, like a high fever and headache. But the biggest concern Sawyer says, is the potential for the flu to make a body weaker to COVID-19 or pneumonia.

“We’re also trying to prevent people from getting the flu and then getting COVID-19 and then getting pneumonia, which could be the final thing that weakens someone and then causes them to pass away.”

– Kathryn Sawyer with NSHC

There are a lot of misconceptions about what happens in the human body during a flu shot. Some people may feel tired afterwards or feel soreness in their arm at the site of the injection. Regardless, pharmacist Sawyer says the flu shot does not contain any live virus.

“It cannot replicate, and it cannot cause the flu. But your body is seeing it as something that could harm it. So, it’s doing the correct thing and building what’s called antibodies which is what your body uses if you were to actually get the flu.”

While getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu, it can make the flu less severe. According to Sawyer, the flu shot provided by NSHC vaccinates for the four most common strains of Influenza, including the H1N1. That’s the flu that can cause the most serious health complications.

Flu clinics have already opened up in Nome and in regional village clinics. Call your local clinic for a schedule or visit nortonsoundhealth.org. In Nome, flu shots are available at the old Youth Facility Monday-Thursday from 5-7pm, Saturdays from 10am -2pm and on Sundays 1-3pm. The flu clinic in Nome ends October 18th.

NSHC will be administering a 0.5mL quadrivalent vaccine made by Glaxo-Smith Kline to most individuals. A higher dose of a .75mL quadrivalent from Sanofi is available for Elders.

Image at top: The old Nome Youth Facility is now the location of the Nome flu clinic. Photo of the facility sourced from Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website.

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