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Free vaccine clinics offered across St. Louis area ahead of what’s expected to be a severe flu season

ST. LOUIS — Getting vaccinated against influenza this season is especially important as protective measures against COVID-19 have largely gone by the wayside and many people lack natural immunity, experts warned Tuesday.

“We can never project with certainty how bad a flu season is going to be, but there are reasons for concern,” said Dr. Steven Lawrence, Washington University infectious disease specialist for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Precautions such as wearing face masks and limiting indoor gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also happened to work extremely well at preventing the typical increase in flu cases during the past two flu seasons.

Those efforts, however, have largely disappeared.

“This is going to be a starkly different flu season behavioral-wise than what we’ve seen in the past couple of years when we have been in the throes of COVID,” Lawrence said. “The flu will be able to transmit relatively unimpeded.”

The recent extremely mild flu seasons also mean the population has not been exposed to the flu virus as much as usual, he said, so people lack the partial immunity built up from exposure.

Lastly, Australia is emerging from its worst flu season in five years, and it is often a harbinger for what is to come in the U.S.

“So, when you combine those three things, it’s sort of a perfect storm for the potential for it to be a really bad year,” Lawrence said.

Everyone ages 6 months and older is recommended to get the flu shot. New this year is the recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that everyone age 65 and older get a high-dose version of the vaccine if it is available.

To help get as many people vaccinated as possible, multiple free vaccination clinics get underway across the St. Louis area this week and continue throughout October:

BJC HealthCare is partnering with the St. Louis Blues to offer free flu shots to those who attend the team’s preseason games this Thursday and Tuesday, Oct. 4. No appointment needed. BJC is also delivering flu vaccines at several of its locations this weekend and next as well as Oct. 13 by appointment. Visit BJC.org/flushots

  • to schedule or learn more.
  • SSM Health is offering a drive-thru, no-appointment-needed flu vaccine event from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 8, at its St. Clare, DePaul and Cardinal Glennon hospitals. Those 9 and younger must get their shots at Cardinal Glennon. No high-dose vaccines will be available.
  • The St. Charles County Department of Public Health will provide a drive-thru flu vaccination clinic from 2:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, on the yellow parking lot at St. Charles Community College, 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive, in Cottleville. Appointments must be made at
  • or by calling 636-949-1889.

Flu symptoms, severity

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It can cause mild to severe illness and even death. Flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk for serious illness by more than 50% and the risk for flu-related death by 31%.

Symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and fatigue.

The severity of flu seasons can vary widely depending on the characteristics of the virus strain, the timing of the season, population immunity and how many people get vaccinated.

Federal data shows that between 2010 and 2020, flu killed an estimated 12,000 to 61,000 people a year and hospitalized between 144,000 and 810,000.

“In a typical year, about 50% of the U.S. population gets the flu vaccine, and if we were able to increase that percentage, then the impact of flu will be significantly diminished,” Lawrence said.

While those older than 65 are at highest risk of severe complications, Lawrence said it’s important for younger adults and children to get the dose because flu still has the potential to keep people in bed for a week.

The more people are vaccinated, he added, the less likely flu will spread to those who are elderly and vulnerable.

“It doesn’t only just reduce the risk of serious illness for the individual,” he said, “but you are also preventing the chance of passing it on to someone else who is at higher risk.”

COVID concerns

Lawrence is also concerned because COVID-19, though not nearly as deadly as it once was, is still circulating at high levels because of new variants that are highly contagious and evading vaccine protection from infection.

“There is a potential for both of these viruses to cause problems and make a lot of people sick” as colder weather causes more people to gather indoors, he said. “We have never seen a season with both COVID and flu at very high levels.”

In Missouri, the latest federal data shows the state saw 7,500 new COVID-19 cases over the last week — considered a high level of transmission. Every day over the past week, COVID-19 sent nearly 93 Missourians into the hospital and took the lives of six to seven residents.

Lawrence encouraged people to get the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine made available nearly a month ago, which includes protection against the original strain of the virus plus protection against the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 strains, which now make up about 90% of COVID-19 cases.

“This new vaccine gives more directed, targeted protections against getting BA.4 and BA.5,” he said, “and it will give a boost in the protection against getting seriously ill from COVID and, for at least short period of time, really markedly reduce the risk of even catching the virus and passing it on to others.”

Pfizer’s bivalent booster is authorized for those 12 or older, while Moderna’s authorization is for patients 18 and older, for those who have completed their primary COVID-19 series and are at least two months from their last vaccine dose.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health will expand the hours of its COVID-19 vaccination clinics at its three health centers starting Monday, Oct. 3. Appointments are available but walk-ins are welcome from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Lawrence recommended taking other preventive measures such as wearing a mask in crowded settings or if about to visit someone who is at high risk of complications and, of course, staying away from others when sick.

“We should consider that part of our new normal,” he said. “It should not only be OK, but it should be encouraged that when you are sick, you don’t come into work or school when you can.”


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