Flu shots take on new importance this season

Published 6:10 pm Friday, October 1, 2021

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Though there has been much focus on COVID-19 in recent months, a Mayo Clinic Health System physician is reminding people not to forget about the upcoming flu season.

Sarah Scherger, pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin, said the health system will begin flu vaccinations in the clinics in the coming weeks. Influenza cases normally start seeing an uptick in December.

Scherger said this year there has been a resurgence in RSV out of its typical season, and if that is any indication of what to expect during the flu season, it could be a difficult season. RSV is a respiratory virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms for most but that can be serious, especially for infants and older adults, causing difficult breathing, coughing and wheezing.

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“Coupled with COVID, we really need people to be as protected as they can be,” she said.

Scherger said influenza is also a virus that causes respiratory illness and, like COVID-19, is considered an “all-system illness” in that it can affect other systems as well, including the GI and cardiovascular systems. It also can cause a range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe or life-threatening.

Though there are many similarities, the illness is different.

She said the flu has a shorter incubation period compared to COVID-19 and can make people feel bad for five to seven days. With COVID, she said, people who are significantly altered may start out by feeling bad for the first few days and then take a turn for the worst.

Scherger said hospitals are strained from dealing with COVID, and if people get the flu and become sick enough to get hospitalized that will make the situation even more difficult.

According to a press release, Mayo Clinic Health System will offer flu vaccination appointments to patients 6 months and older across southeast Minnesota starting Oct. 18.

Flu vaccinations will be offered at these locations:

• Albert Lea: Health Reach Building, 1705 S.E. Broadway Ave., rooms 1-112 and 1-113.

• Austin: West Building, 101 14th St. NW, room 1-04.

• Owatonna: Southview Building, 134 Southview St.

• Rochester: 41st St. Professional Building, 3033 41st St. NW. Enter from the north side of the building.

In addition, patients can ask to be vaccinated for flu — and COVID-19 at most locations — during an existing appointment with their primary care provider at the southeast Minnesota clinic locations in Adams, Albert Lea, Austin, Faribault, Lake Mills, New Richland, Owatonna and Wells.

Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, have respiratory symptoms or are under quarantine should delay being vaccinated for flu until they are no longer ill and their quarantine period is over.

A parent or guardian will need to self-schedule a flu vaccination appointment for patients 6 months to 12 years old using caregiver access to the child’s account. Patients 13 to 17 will need their own Patient Online Services accounts to schedule a flu vaccination appointment. When making an appointment, note that children 6 months to 8 years old need two flu vaccinations if it’s the child’s first-ever seasonal flu vaccination. The second vaccination is given at least four weeks from the date of the first.

“After vaccination, it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies to protect against the flu, which is why early fall vaccination is recommended. If you are sick, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading illness to others,” Scherger said.

Many insurance plans cover the cost of seasonal flu vaccination. Children 18 and younger may be eligible to be vaccinated for flu at no cost through the Minnesota Vaccines for Children Program.

Patients also can call 507-434-9929 to schedule a flu-only vaccination appointment at one of these locations.