HELENA — It was a busy Tuesday morning at the Montana VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison, as hundreds of vets received influenza vaccinations.
This is the tenth year the Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) has held their drive-thru flu shot clinic. Last year MTVAHCS administered more than 800 vaccinations at the same drive thru-clinic
Registered Nurse Katie Temple with MTVAHCS says with COVID having similar symptoms to influenza, this year it’s important more than ever to get a flu shot.
“It’s super important to get your flu shot to protect yourself but also to protect those who are in your life that might be immunocompromised. Over the age of 65, those other people around you that you may not think that you could spread the virus to even if you don’t get sick,” said Temple.
While most people that contract influenza every year are able recover without major complications, many do not.
According to the CDC, since 2010 there have been between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually due to influenza.
In Montana 26 people died from influenza in 2019, with hundreds of hospitalizations across the state.
Getting a vaccination reduces the chance of those who are at most risk from contracting the virus.
“Even if you don’t get sick when getting the flu, by getting a flu shot you protect those others around you such as coworkers and family members,” said Temple.
Earlier this year Temple was deployed to Chinle, Arizona to help with COVID response at the Navajo Nation.
Temple said it was amazing to see a community come together like that, but it was also a very difficult situation.
“It was hard to see that some things are out of our control,” said Temple.
The Navajo Nation was hit particularly hard by COVID. As of Tuesday Sep. 29, they have had 10,333 positive COVID cases, with 555 deaths.
While there, Temple says there was rarely a vacant bed at their temporary care facility. Whether the patient left for another care facility or passed away, the ben was quickly filled by another patient in need.
Temple added she didn't want to imagine needing to treat influenza at the same time as COVID.
“All I can think is it would just multiply because the symptoms are very similar,” said Temple. “If you put the flu on top of COVID-19 the impact on the health care system would be huge.”
Temple noted that while Montana has been relatively sheltered from COVID, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard on health care workers in the state.
MTVAHCS asks that everyone be vigilant about following COVID and influenza recommendations so that health care workers aren’t overwhelmed.
It’s recommended everyone over the age of 6 months receive a flu shot.
Flu shots are available at any of the MTVAHCS clinics across the state for individuals enrolled with VA Health Care.
People can also get vaccinated for influenza at pharmacies, through their doctor, medical clinics and public health departments.
People can search for places that offer vaccines here.