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Michigan health officials seek to increase flu vaccines by 1M amid pandemic

Facing the dual threat of COVID-19 and influenza, the state wants to get an additional 1 million Michiganders vaccinated against the flu this year.

That would mean about 4.2 million people or more than 40 percent of the population. Doing so would safeguard against dual infections of potentially deadly viruses and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.  

But reaching those numbers may not be easy.

Because of the coronavirus, some patients are reluctant to go to doctor’s offices or pharmacies for seasonal flu vaccines. Additionally, senior centers and many workplaces — the site of countless pop-up vaccination clinics across the state — remain shuttered or only partly staffed.

That forces some residents who might otherwise get a flu shot during their everyday routines — at work, on errands, or before a senior center lunch — to think ahead about a vaccine. They must find a clinic or pop-up site and in some cases travel several miles, said Michael Snyder, a health officer for Delta and Menominee counties in the Upper Peninsula.

 

“It’s great that we can get the vaccinations, but we need to get them into the arms of people, too,” said Snyder. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Drive-thru service can help improve access to the vaccines, he and others said.

Last week, Hillsdale Hospital moved its vaccination clinic to the Hillsdale County Fairgrounds, allowing drive-thru service to minimize a “double whammy” of possible exposure to the flu and COVID-19, said Rachel Lott, spokesperson of the hospital in southern Michigan.

“We wanted to do this so individuals didn’t have to park, get out of their car, and then try to stand 6 feet [from each other] as they waited,” she said.

The clinic was the busiest ever, delivering 206 vaccines, she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the United States had 39 million to 56 million cases of the flu last year, and at least 410,000 flu-related hospitalizations. The flu also caused the deaths of 187 children, nationwide including six in Michigan, according to the state.

It’s still too early to know about the severity of this year’s flu, but fears of particularly virulent strain have providers worried about a “twindemic” that swamps hospitals. Drug makers are producing 190 million doses of the flu vaccine, the most ever.

In Michigan, both state and local health departments and clinics have boosted their normal orders, which are being delivered now.

The federally funded Vaccines for Children program is shipping 350,700 vaccines to Michigan public clinics this year, up from 301,210 the previous year. 

For the first time, the CDC is shipping 200,000 doses for Michigan adults and an additional 60,000 doses for high-risk populations. They're expected to arrive in November and December. 

In all, that's more than 300,000 publicly funded vaccines above last year's vaccines. 

Vaccines to private providers and pharmacies are harder to track.

Some experts worry Micihganders may skip the vaccine this year because they believe that masks and social distancing that helps protect against COVID-19 will protect against flu as well.

While those steps can help, residents should get the vaccine as well, said Brian Long, president and CEO of Memorial Healthcare in Owosso.

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