PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee and state health officials are urging all Rhode Islanders to get their flu shot this year, especially since most of the state’s pandemic-related restrictions are no longer in place.
McKee and the R.I. Department of Health kicked off the state’s annual flu vaccination campaign Wednesday at Anthony’s Pharmacy in Providence.
While Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos received her flu shot at the event, McKee said he got vaccinated a few weeks ago.
“It was quick, painless and I didn’t have any side effects,” McKee said. “I encourage all Rhode Islanders to get their flu shot and their COVID-19 vaccine. Both shots are important to building a healthy, resilient Rhode Island.”
Last year’s flu season was atypical, with the Health Department reporting no flu-related deaths and only two hospitalizations. The season before that, the department reported 950 hospitalizations and 20 deaths.
“We were all wearing masks everywhere in public, many of us were working from home,” RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said. “All kinds of events and activities were canceled, and when we were together we were practicing social distancing.”
Alexander-Scott said this year’s flu season won’t look like last year’s because the majority of those restrictions have since been lifted.
“We do expect more flu activity in Rhode Island to occur this season,” Alexander-Scott said.
The Health Department said Rhode Island has some of the highest flu vaccination rates in the nation.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Health, told 12 News that last season, approximately 66% of Rhode Islanders ages 6 months and older got vaccinated against the flu, while nearly 61% of people were immunized the season before that.
“Flu shots are fast, easy and free. You don’t need health insurance to get your flu shot, and they are available in every community in Rhode Island,” Alexander-Scott said. “The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones this flu season is to get your flu shot.”
The Health Department said this year’s flu vaccine protects against two influenza A strains (including the H1N1 strain) and two influenza B strains, based on what experts believe will be circulating.
State health officials said two enhanced flu vaccines will be available for adults ages 65 and older. The enhanced vaccines, according to the Health Department, will help older adults get a higher immune response from their body and give them better protection from the flu.
The Health Department said some people may not feel well after getting the flu shot, but that’s a sign that the body is building up an immune response to the virus.