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Healthcare industry, public officials urge Orange County residents to get flu vaccinations

Halle Black, 8, holds onto Piper, her dog, as she sits on her mother Liz's lap after receiving a flu shot.
Halle Black, 8, holds onto Piper, her dog, as she sits on her mother Liz’s lap after receiving a flu shot from Kristen Goode, a BSN, RN, on Friday at Coastal Kids in Laguna Niguel.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Coastal Kids, an Orange County-based medical group, stresses the importance of flu vaccinations every year.

That message has not changed in the face of the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, although the way those shots are administered may look different at times.

“We’ve already administered a few thousand flu vaccines,” said Dr. Steven Abelowitz, the medical director of Coastal Kids. “For us, [how] we’ve changed the course in order to keep our patients safe and the public safe, we’re doing our flu clinics as drive-up flu clinics.

“That, we feel, as a drive-up, out-of-the-office [option] in the parking lot, is safer for our children and their families and the public, at an added cost to us, but we’re definitely OK with that because there’s more staffing.”

Mike McEnery, the chief administrative officer for Coastal Kids, said that flu shot clinics are set up in the parking lot once a week from noon to 4:30 p.m. at each of Coastal Kids’ five locations: Laguna Hills (Monday), Irvine (Tuesday), Ladera Ranch (Wednesday), Newport Beach (Thursday) and Laguna Niguel (Friday).

Abelowitz said that everybody above the age of 6 months should consider getting a flu shot. He added that patients will want to avoid dealing with COVID-19 and influenza at the same time, noting that the coronavirus pandemic has not been experienced during the peak of flu season.

There has been much debate about the timeframe and manner of reopening schools. Abelowitz said he believes that if significant steps to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus are in place like social distancing, wearing masks and screening, it is beneficial for students to be in school. He acknowledged that there may be more risk factors for teachers and family members.

“With what we know about COVID right now, for the kids themselves, it’s beneficial to go back to school because distance learning away from school, all those associated factors, the detriments of that [to] mental health, developmental health [and] social health outweigh their own personal risk regarding COVID,” Abelowitz said.

While Coastal Kids continued to treat patients inside of its practices, some services have been offered outside due to the pandemic, limiting the number of patients indoors and providing a more comfortable environment to others.

Zach Murillo, 11, gets a flu shot from Kristen Goode, a BSN, RN, right, as his mother Allison looks on at Coastal Kids.
Zach Murillo, 11, gets a flu shot from Kristen Goode, a BSN, RN, as his mother Allison, left, looks on in the parking lot at Coastal Kids in Laguna Niguel on Friday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“Of course, because of COVID, we were forced to do [some of] our well visits and our sick visits [outside], as we try to minimize the number of patients in the clinic,” McEnery said. “We were able to do the drive-up visits for those patients that would prefer to get their visits outside.”

For anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms, Coastal Kids would insist that a visit be done as a drive-up visit so as not to put the staff and other patients at risk, Abelowitz added.

Healthcare experts and public officials in the county are presenting a united front as it relates to the coming flu season, urging the public to spare themselves the trouble of having to worry about two viruses at once.

The Orange County Health Care Agency has launched a flu shot campaign called, “Don’t worry about the flu, too.”

Beginning Monday, the healthcare agency will be providing free flu shots by appointment only on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at its own flu clinic (1725 W. 17th Street, Santa Ana). To make an appointment, call 1-800-914-4887.

“Even if you never get a flu shot, it’s absolutely vital that you take this important step to make sure we don’t overburden our health system,” Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said in a release put out by the county healthcare agency on Sept. 17.

“It is essential that we all take the necessary precautions to avoid an outbreak of the flu as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic. Orange County wants to make sure every community has easy access to get a flu shot.”

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