Healthcare workers receive COVID-19 booster

St. John’s Health nurse Betty Zernik adds stickers to nurse Rachel Porterfield’s badge after giving her the COVID-19 booster shot and flu shot.

Have you gotten your flu shot yet?

If not, primary physicians and pediatricians across the valley are administering influenza vaccinations, and this Friday the Teton County Health Department will host a “Minions”-themed flu-a-palooza vaccination event catering to families and children.

“Our nurses will be dressed up and trying to make it fun,” said Rachel Wheeler, public health response coordinator.

“Getting the flu vaccine, especially with COVID circulating, is really important, because when you are fully vaccinated against flu, even if you do get the flu it lessens how long you’re sick and how severe your case is.”

Health officers caution this will be a more damaging flu season than last year, when pandemic precautions like mask wearing, social distancing and regular hand washing helped slow the spread of the coronavirus and influenza.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist told the News&Guide she is “very concerned” about flu’s impact on hospitals across Wyoming, which are already strained by COVID patients.

“[We are] certainly worried about what the combination of influenza and COVID-19 could be for our hospital capacity,” she said, adding: “We have a vaccine for flu. We encourage everybody to get that.”

Esther Ellis, lead nurse for Teton County School District No. 1, said children are understandably being more social this year.

The district has already detected a couple of flu cases in its schools, an early indication that the common respiratory virus might not be taking the backseat again.

Most of the necessary information for flu shots can be found on the county Health Department’s website (TetonWyo.org/2371/Health-Department).

For a brief period it seemed the department would be able to offer the flu and COVID-19 booster shots on the same day, a dose in each arm, as it has done for some early-admittance residents. But due to logistical conflicts, staff have opted to separate the two.

All COVID vaccines (first, second and third doses) are now administered at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, which hosts clinics by appointment Wednesday through Saturday.

Flu shots are given at the Health Department on Thursdays and Fridays, also by appointment.

Wheeler said families need to book a separate appointment for each family member. She encouraged people to sign up early, as the department is already booked for two weeks.

The most recent Teton County Community Health Needs Assessment showed that only 30% of residents on average are vaccinated for flu, a far cry from the recommended 80%.

Wheeler said that tally is likely an underestimation because inoculations are chronically underreported.

“I feel like our flu reporting is getting better,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s 100% perfect yet.”

“Based on our current numbers, we are always working to get more people vaccinated, and we want more people vaccinated against flu because it is a vaccine-preventable illness.”

The state health department’s last comprehensive flu report documented a “high severity season” from October 2018 to May 2019. The report determined severity based on the number of cases, hospitalizations and influenza-associated deaths.

During that season, there was a peak of 1,211 weekly cases in February, a 30% increase from the prior year.

Similar to COVID, Teton County appears to do better than the rest of the state when it comes to flu. While Wyoming reported 10,009 flu cases in that 2018-19 season, Teton County accounted for just 230, or 2% of those cases.

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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