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HUNTINGTON — With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, officials with local health departments are urging people to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible to help lessen the strain on the community’s health care infrastructure.

Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director for the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, says getting the flu shot is more important than ever due to COVID-19.

“There is no need for someone to get the flu and COVID-19,” he said. “Hospitals and other health care places fill up every year due to the flu and can overwhelm our health care systems that are already battling COVID-19. We want to do everything we can to prevent this from happening by preventing the flu as much as we possibly can.”

The Kanawha Charleston Health Department plans to continue offering flu shots alongside COVID-19 tests to reach as many people as possible, said Dr. Sherri Young, health chief.

“Studies are coming out saying you can be infected with both (COVID-19 and the flu). We want to ensure people are protecting themselves in the best way possible,” Young said. “The best way to do that is provide testing, wear our masks, social distance and, for the flu, the vaccine. Symptoms for both diseases can be the same, too, so we want to make sure as we go into this flu season we know what we’re dealing with.”

Typically, flu season peaks in November and again in February or March, Young said. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu symptoms can be very similar to COVID-19 symptoms. They include sore throat, cough, fever, body aches, runny nose, fatigue and headaches.

The more people that get the flu shot, the healthier a community can be, Young said. Getting the flu shot also saves millions of dollars a year, as people miss less work and save more on medical bills if they are proactive and work to prevent the ailment.

Young said the flu shot — especially this year — is another tool people can use to help protect their communities and themselves.

While it’s not uncommon for minor cases of these symptoms to temporarily afflict someone after receiving a flu vaccine, Young said it’s important to remember that it is not the flu.

“That’s your body building up antibodies and immunity to that strain (of the flu),” Young said. “The little bit you have — that’s normal. The flu shot is a killed virus; there’s no way to have it from that (vaccination).”

While people have become accustomed to wearing masks and face coverings over the past few months, Young said she hopes the practices continue, to help ease the potential effects of the flu on those already worried about or affected by COVID-19.

Kilkenny said the Cabell-Huntington Health Department will implement some changes this year regarding flu shots.

Flu shots will be offered by the health department weekly from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The department also will offer COVID-19 testing weekly from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays.

Both will take place at the tent outside of the health department, located at 703 7th Ave. in Huntington, in the format of a drive-thru, according to Kilkenny.

“We believe it’s safer than the traditional face-to-face and don’t want large groups of people to gather in a waiting area,” he said.

Kilkenny said the health department has several thousand flu shots on hand.

“And we believe we can order more,” he said. “We want to see the least cases of flu than ever before and the highest number of vaccines ever given.”

Kilkenny added that the health department would continue supporting other agencies, like Mountain Health Network, and scheduling some visits for flu shots at specific locations. {span}Both flu shots and COVID-19 testing are free and no appointment is needed for the drive-thru services.

“We will make the public aware of these specific times and locations once we get them scheduled,” he said.