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Arkansas To Provide Free Flu Vaccines In Hopes Of Easing Burden On Hospitals

The Arkansas Department of Health says flu season officially starts next month.
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The Arkansas Department Health will begin offering free flu vaccinations next week. Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the state's chief medical officer, says with fewer people taking COVID-19 precautions, which also protect against the flu, this year's flu season is expected to be more severe than the last.

She said the goal is to get as many people as possible, including children, vaccinated by November, when the flu virus is expected to become more prevalent.

"Children under the age of 9, so 8 years of age and younger, if they have not had two doses of a flu vaccine in the past, they need two doses of the flu vaccine this year, and they should be four weeks apart," Dillaha said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine every year. Flu vaccines are adjusted each season to match the specific strains of the virus. Dillaha said being vaccinated against the flu reduces the possibility of being hospitalized during a time when the health care system is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

"Every year, influenza puts a lot of people in the hospital. The more we can minimize that, the more stress we can take off of our hospital system and avoid the combination of high flu and high COVID-19 hospitalizations in our state. I do not like to think about what the combination of both of them would be," she said.

Last year, considered to be a mild flu season, the department reported influenza killed 23 Arkansans. In some years, the flu has killed more than 200 in the state. The flu vaccine is especially recommended for vulnerable populations.

"These are often the same people who are at high risk for severe COVID-19," Dillaha said. "This would be women who are pregnant, as well as people who have chronic health conditions, and people who are 65 and older."

Flu vaccines will be available through every county's health clinic starting Monday. Public schools in the state will also be providing flu vaccinations. The department asks that people provide insurance or Medicaid cards if possible, but free flu shots will be provided to anyone regardless of insurance.

David Monteith worked as a reporter for KUAR News between 2015 and July 2022.