Rhode Island kicks off flu vaccination campaign

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island kicked off this year’s flu vaccination campaign in October, with health leaders encouraging all Rhode Islanders older than 6 months to get the shot.

Leaders from the R.I. Department of Health and Providence Community Health Centers gathered at the Chafee Health Center on Oct. 20 to kick off the campaign.

“Rhode Island is a national leader for COVID-19 vaccination. Now it’s time for us to be national leaders with our flu vaccination rate,” said Gov. Daniel J. McKee. “Getting a flu shot is your best protection against serious illness from the flu, and it’s also the best way to protect the people you love. If you’re like me and plan to get together with family and friends for the holidays over the coming weeks and months, the time to get vaccinated is now.”

Merrill Thomas, CEO for Providence Community Health Centers; Dr. Andrew Saal, chief medical officer for PCHC; and Dr. Philip Chan, a consultant medical director for the Division of Preparedness, Response, Infectious Disease and Emergency Medical Services at the R.I. Department of Health attended the event.

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“Even if you are healthy, you can still spread the flu to someone older or with a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes,” Saal said. “Flu vaccines are one of the easiest things we can do to interrupt the spread of the virus in our community. Take five minutes today to help protect your mom, your dad, your family and everyone in our community.”

“It’s important to get your flu shot every year,” said Ana Novais, acting secretary at the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “Local pharmacies, health centers and primary care providers have plenty of vaccine on-site. We are grateful for our partnerships in the community, including those with community-based providers, work-site clinics and schools as we work to protect all Rhode Islanders. Vaccinations are an important part of disease prevention – please join us in protecting your family and loved ones, and get your flu shot scheduled today.”

Prior to COVID-19, the flu would result in more than 1,000 hospitalizations and many fatalities during a typical season. For example, during the 2018-2019 flu season, the flu resulted in 1,032 hospitalizations and 39 flu-associated deaths. Leaders invite Rhode Islanders to be weary of what could be a “severe season.”

“For the past two flu seasons, our flu rates have been at historic lows because of masking, social distancing and other measures related to COVID-19. As things get back to normal, we could see a severe flu season,” Chan said. “This makes it that much more important to get your flu shot and to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. You can get your flu shot and your COVID-19 booster at the same time. Both the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine help decrease the severity and duration of illness if you do get sick, and they help keep you out of the hospital.”

Because of the severity of the flu, leaders recommend all eligible Rhode Islanders get a shot every year. Flu shots are especially important for certain people, including people older than 50 years old, children under 5 years old, health care workers, people living in long-term care facilities, pregnant people and people with weakened immune systems.

This year, the R.I. Department of Health is encouraging people to also get their COVID-19 booster shot.

Claudia Chiappa is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Chiappa@PBN.com.