Health department offers free shots as Oklahoma flu deaths hit record
Oklahoma City — Oklahoma marked two grim milestones this week: a record for seasonal flu deaths and the first pediatric death from flu in the state this season.
The pediatric patient, who was between the ages of 5 and 17, died in Oklahoma County. Since the flu season started in September, 22 county residents have died of flu complications, and 587 have been hospitalized, according to the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
Statewide a total of 153 Oklahomans have died of flu complications since the season started, and 3,440 have been hospitalized. The flu season could last until May, but the state already has broken the record set last year, when 130 people died and 2,422 had to go to the hospital, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The state has kept statistics on flu deaths since 2009.
The state Health Department announced Thursday that it will offer flu shots for free at all county health departments to anyone 6 months or older. A high-dose vaccine for senior citizens also is available.
“We have been surprised at the number of people who haven't received the flu vaccination yet this season and we are making this effort to ensure that everyone who would like a flu shot will be able to get one,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said in a news release.
The shot is especially important for senior citizens, pregnant women, young children and people with chronic conditions, but healthy people also should get it to avoid infecting someone who is vulnerable, city-county health department clinical administrator Kerri Stewart said.
It takes about two weeks for the immune system to react to the vaccine, but it still could be advantageous to get it, even if you've had the flu. The strains that are circulation have shifted, so you could get a different strain and end up sick twice in one season.
Eric Howard, an epidemiologist at the city-county health department, said flu hospitalizations peaked in Oklahoma County about three weeks ago, but the virus almost certainly will continue circulating locally well into March.
“We're not over yet,” he said.
To get a flu vaccine
Shots are available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon Friday at 2700 NE 63, 21449 SW 59 and 4113 NW 10.
How to protect yourself
• Wash your hands frequently
• Cover your coughs and sneezes
• Avoid sick people and staying home if you’re not feeling well.
How to protect others
If you’ve had the flu, avoid going out until your fever has been gone for 24 hours without the use of medications, the state Health Department said.