Arkadelphia News

Health advocacy group urges flu shots ahead of Thanksgiving

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement’s policy arm is urging Arkansans to get vaccinated against the flu before the end of this week in order to be protected and protect others from the virus during Thanksgiving gatherings, the center stated in a Thursday news release.

Flu season usually starts in October, and several states including Arkansas have seen an uptick of cases already. Doctors attribute the rise to the relaxing or elimination of the COVID-19 protection measures that were in place in 2020 and 2021.

Flu cases were fewer than normal both years as a result of masking and social distancing, Arkansas Department of Health senior physician specialist Dr. Joel Tumlison said last week.

 The Influenza Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors influenza-like illness (ILI) in each state and territory week by week. Any respiratory illness that includes fever and a cough or sore throat but has not been confirmed as influenza with a laboratory test is considered ILI. | U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As of Saturday, Arkansas has “very high” rates of influenza-like illness, two weeks after being designated “low,” according to the Influenza Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ACHI’s 22-member Health Policy Board voted Thursday to issue the call encouraging people to get their flu shots.

“We’re seeing a higher level of flu activity, both in cases and hospitalizations, than we’ve seen this early in the flu season in a long time,” ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson said in the news release. “It can take a couple of weeks to receive maximum protection from a vaccination, and Thanksgiving is two weeks away, so please do not delay. Get your shot now.”

The Department of Health recorded 240 flu cases from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5, 100 more than the previous week, according to the department’s weekly influenza report.

The state has seen 655 cases and 116 flu-related hospital admissions since Oct. 2.

Hospitalizations and deaths of the flu are required to be reported to the Arkansas Department of Health. Flu cases that do not result in hospitalizations are not always recorded, though some health care providers consistently do so, Tumlison said.

Anyone who is eligible for the updated COVID-19 booster vaccine, which targets both the original strain of the virus and the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, should also receive it as soon as possible if they haven’t already, Thompson said.

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