MESA, AZ — On Monday afternoon, state health officials announced a robust agenda when it comes to flu vaccinations in the COVID-19 era.
As we head into flu season in the middle of the pandemic, ABC15 took a deeper look at how one school district is doing everything it can to get kids under 18 vaccinated.
"Flu doesn't change just because COVID is here. We want people to get their flu shots," says Nadine Miller, Health Director for Mesa Public Schools.
With no vaccine for COVID-19, getting a flu vaccine, "has never been more important," said Governor Doug Ducey during a Monday press briefing, announcing the state's efforts to getting vaccines out in the community.
In Mesa, Miller works closely with Captain Michelle Denton of the Mesa Fire and Medical Department.
"We've worked together in this effort for over 20 years," adds Miller.
In all approaches when it comes to vaccines, 2020 is proving to be different. Captain Denton says her department has been given funding through both state and county levels to make sure flu vaccines are provided at no cost to the community.
"There is definitely a push for us to get out there and hit the streets and do as many flu shots as we can, and keep those hospital beds free from flu patients as much as we can," says Captain Denton.
During Monday's press briefing, Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona Department of Health Director, told reporters 2019 was a record-breaking year for the number of flu cases.
"We had our highest number of flu cases recorded. Over 36,000 cases of influenza were reported... and we know not everyone was searching for an influenza test," said Dr. Christ.
On Tuesday, Sept. 8, many of the state's largest school districts like Gilbert Public Schools and Higley Unified School District will return to in-person learning in some capacity.
"With this upcoming flu season, and with COVID-19 still circulating in our communities, there's a potential that our healthcare system could become overwhelmed," added Dr. Christ.
In early August, Captain Denton and Nurse Miller put together a community vaccine clinic with state and grant funding. They both tell ABC15 they hope to have more details for the upcoming flu vaccine drives in the next few weeks that will work in conjunction with COVID-19 testing drives.
"If someone is just there for flu, we are going to encourage them to get COVID testing. If there are just there for COVID testing, we are going to encourage them to get the flu shot. If they are there for a baby shot, we are going to say, 'Mom and Dad, let's get you a flu shot while we are here.'"
As far as schools are concerned, all Mesa Public Schools are still doing distance learning, proving yet another hardship in getting kids vaccinated.
Captain Denton says in the past, they've had a robust weekly agenda of getting 4,100 kids vaccinated.
"We usually have 10 to 12 of us in a van, going from school to school, vaccinating 1,000 school children four days in a row," adds Denton.
With COVID-19 and social distancing in place, this Mesa duo is getting creative in their approach in outpacing last year's flu vaccine numbers.
"We'll probably have smaller clinics and more frequent ones in order to get to those numbers, and more community-based clinics at the schools," adds Denton.
Next Wednesday, Sept. 9, Mesa Fire and Medical Department will have a vaccination clinic at Superstition Springs Mall near the US 60 and Superstition Springs Blvd. The event is free of cost and runs from 5 to 7 p.m. No appointment is necessary.