PORTLAND — The Oregon Health Authority is urging residents that getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

OHA urges flu shots for everyone 6 months or older.

"Flu vaccines are safe and effective, and with ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks, it is more important than ever to get a flu shot to keep the people around you healthy,” said Paul Cieslak, M.D., medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations at the Oregon Health Authority.

While it is unclear how the pandemic will affect the flu season, OHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are preparing for COVID-19 and seasonal flu to spread at the same time. A “twindemic” of two potentially fatal viruses circulating at the same time could burden the state’s health care system and result in many illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths, Cieslak said. Getting a flu vaccine is something easy people can do to protect themselves and their loved ones and help reduce the spread of flu this fall and winter.

Though the flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, it has many other benefits and is part of a comprehensive public health strategy to reduce the burden of flu. Some of the additional benefits include:

• The vaccine is proven to help protect pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions while reducing the burden of flu on our communities and health care system.

• This year, especially, it will be most important to protect those at higher risk for flu complications. Many of these people are also at high risk for COVID-19 illness or serious outcomes.

• It is also important for caregivers and essential workers to protect themselves and those around them from flu by getting a flu vaccine.

Because the flu vaccine may take up to two weeks to become effective, getting it earlier in the season is ideal, Oregon Health Authority said. For that reason, OHA is promoting a “Don’t Wait to Vaccinate” campaign with social media cards and other messaging in multiple languages.

Flu vaccine is available from health care providers, local health departments and many pharmacies. The vaccine is free or low cost with most health insurance plans. To find flu vaccine clinic, visit http://www.flu.oregon.gov/ and use OHA’s flu vaccine locator tool.

While getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the flu, additional ways Oregonians can help prevent the spread of flu include:

• Staying home from work or school when you are sick and limit contact with others.

• Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.

• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

• Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may have flu germs on them.

• Avoiding getting coughed and sneezed on.

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