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story.lead_photo.caption Cole County Health Department's Tara Fergerson administers a flu shot Friday to Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The News Tribune is offering this article free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community.

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The push to encourage people to receive a flu vaccination has been especially strong this year, state officials said Friday.

It's increasingly important to get flu shots during the COVID-19 pandemic for three reasons, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said.

"Being as healthy as you can during the COVID-19 pandemic has been shown to decrease your morbidity and even your mortality," Williams said Friday before receiving a flu shot at the Cole County Health Department. "Not getting the flu is certainly a way you can protect yourself from maybe getting sicker than you might have gotten with COVID-19."

As the flu season becomes active, having fewer people sick with the flu will ease the burden on health care workers, he continued.

We also know that, during the respiratory virus season, there will be people walking around with runny noses, a cough or a low-grade fever, Williams said.

So it's helpful to have a reasonable expectation as a clinician a patient may not have the flu because they have had the flu shot. That allows the clinician to focus more on the possibility the conditions come from other respiratory illnesses.

If you get the flu shot, he said, that doesn't mean you won't get the flu. It doesn't prevent 100 percent of cases. However, if a person gets the flu shot and still gets the flu, the "course is a lot more benign and easier," Williams said.

The flu shot this year covers four strains.

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Because people are taking precautions, the hope is the flu season won't be as disruptive as it has been in other years.

During a typical year, more than 100,000 Missourians get sick with the flu, according to a DHSS news release. The flu killed more than 100 people in Missouri during the 2019-20 flu season.

If you've noticed more curbside or drive-thru flu-vaccination clinics, you're not alone. There's been a stronger push to prevent the flu than in past years.

For example, Whaley's Pharmacy in Jefferson City is offering drive-thru flu shot clinics beginning next week, and Hy-Vee in Jefferson City now offers regular drive-up flu shot clinics.

Most pharmacies can bill a patient's insurance company and many insurance companies cover immunizations at no charge, and some pharmacies offer a cash-pay price for those without insurance.

DHSS is working closely with local public health agencies to increase immunization rates among adult populations who are most at-risk for contracting COVID-19, according to the news release.

"Ancillary supplies and vaccine transport coolers have also been purchased for local providers to host adult flu vaccine clinics or offer curbside or drive-thru clinics," it said. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided Missouri with an additional 300,000 adult flu vaccines to meet with is expected to be an increased demand."

Typically, fewer than half of Missouri's adults get the flu vaccine — about 45 percent, Williams said.

"We've contracted with local health departments so we can get that up to 60 percent," he said.

Flu vaccines are available. Contact your health care provider to receive a flu shot, or use the "VaccineFinder" at vaccinefinder.org.

The Cole County Health Department offers flu vaccinations, among other immunization services, for walk-in patients from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays. The cost to receive immunizations at the Health Department depends on insurance coverage. For children and adults with health insurance, vaccines are run through the insurance company and prices depend on coverage. For children 18 and younger without insurance, the federally funded Vaccines for Children program allows the Health Department to charge an administration fee only. For adults 19 and older without insurance, prices vary and are discussed at the time of service.

"For yourself, for your loved ones, for the state, we really hope you get your flu shot this year," Williams said.

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