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Preventing the Worst
Photo by Cooper Henckel

Flu shot key to preventing flu season hospitalization spike

Story By Cooper Henckel
Local News Published 09/23/2021 2:20PM, Last Updated 09/23/2021 3:05PM
Rhinelander - 2020 had record low flu numbers, due in part to mask wearing and social distancing. Unfortunately, that makes predicting this year's flu season more difficult.

"There's still a lot to find out, but it's important that we get our flu shots to prevent serious illness and hospitalization this year," said Oneida County Public Health nurse Rebecca Wold.

Even with the light flu season last year, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 4,425 hospitalizations during the 2019-2020 flu season. DHS reports 90% of hospital beds are occupied and less than 10% of ICU beds are available. According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the state has a total 1,395 ICU beds, only 83 of which are currently available. Even adding in available Neg Flow Isolation beds, a mild flu season with a 12.2% hospitalization rate like last year's would still result in over 3,900 people needing beds that aren't available in Wisconsin.

"We are seeing our hospitals overrun with COVID patients both here in Wisconsin and across the nation, so we really need to be proactive and protect ourselves so we can keep ourselves out of hospitals," said Wold.

The Oneida County Health Department started its walk-in flu shot clinic on September 20. It's open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., except on Tuesdays, when it is open until 5:30 p.m. There will be Saturday clinic on October 2 at Grace Four Square Church from 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. A full list of future events can be found on the health department's website.

The health department offers the high-dose vaccine for adults aged 65 and older as well as the standard quadrivalent shot.

"[The quadrivalent vaccine] is a vaccine that covers against four different strains of the flu virus that are expected to circulate this year," said Wold.

The Health Department will vaccinate kids aged six months up through 18 years old for free. They accept a number of types of insurance to cover the vaccine costs for adults. For the uninsured, the cost is $36 for the Fluzone Quadrivalent and $81 for the high-dose formula. You do not need an appointment for either vaccine. Wald says to bring your insurance card and a mask.

"We will continue vaccinating through the end of the year here at the health department, and we do have a variety of community clinics coming up starting next week," Wold said.
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