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Free flu vaccines available at Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium this weekend

If you still need to get your flu shot, Baltimore County has you covered this weekend.

The Baltimore County Department of Health will set up a clinic on Saturday and Sunday for county residents to get free flu vaccinations by appointment at the Cow Palace at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

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Vaccines are available for those ages 6 months and older; for people older than 65, a high-dose vaccine is recommended by public health officials, according to the county’s website.

All who attend must wear face coverings and are asked to wear short-sleeved shirts to make it easier for health care staff to administer the shot. Vaccines will be given on a first-come, first-served basis, according to a news release.

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“We do want to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” county health department spokesperson Elyn Garrett-Jones said. In previous years, the county health department has offered free flu vaccinations at several sites throughout the county and patients did not need to make an appointment, Garrett-Jones said; this year, she said residents must sign up online or over the phone.

Public health officials have issued warnings that the flu season, which typically runs in the U.S. from October through March, could compound the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and leave health departments and health care facilities struggling to address a “twindemic."

“As our fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s more important than ever to take precautions to protect yourself from the seasonal flu,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement. “We hope as many people as possible will take advantage of this accessible, convenient and free clinic to help prevent themselves and their loved ones from getting the flu this season.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an early October interview with the president of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center that he expected this flu season to be milder than in prior years, given that Americans are largely following social distancing guidelines to curb spreading the coronavirus by wearing face masks and maintaining a 6-foot distance.

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“All of this mask-wearing, closing schools, social distancing; those are all going to help prevent the spread of flu and the spread of COVID,” said Molly Hyde, an infection control practitioner at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, adding she was “cautiously optimistic” the U.S. will see fewer flu cases this year.

However, social distancing only goes so far, and Garrett-Jones said because influenza is “a very dangerous infectious disease,” it’s still important to inoculate oneself.

The flu kills 12,000 to 60,000 people each year and hundreds of thousands are typically hospitalized, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates about 4.4 million cases were prevented last year through vaccination, which is recommended for everyone ages 6 months and older.

The CDC has partnered with the American Medical Association and the Ad Council to urge vaccinations across the country. Surveys from that campaign, dubbed No One Has Time for Flu, show many Americans, including 40% of Black and Hispanic people, are undecided about getting a flu vaccination.

County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch advised those who do not traditionally get vaccinated to do so this season.

“This is especially true for African Americans who often shy away from getting flu vaccinations but are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus,” Branch said in a statement.

Last season, the CDC reported Hispanic people had the lowest vaccination rate, at about 38%, followed by Black people with a rate just over 40%, both well below white people at almost 53%. Black and Hispanic Americans have also had higher flu hospitalizations over the past decade.

Kurt Seeto, immunization program manager for the Maryland Department of Health, told a Baltimore Sun reporter there are misconceptions about the vaccine, including that it causes the flu or doesn’t work. He said some communities mistrust the health care system and others lack transportation or insurance.

In Maryland, almost 75% of kids ages 6 months to 4 years were vaccinated last year, among the nation’s highest rates. Among older kids and adults, however, the rate dropped to 52%.

A list of places offering free flu shots is available at marylandvax.org. GBMC is offering drive-thru vaccinations at Farmhill House on the hospital’s Towson campus. University System of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center is setting up free, appointment-based vaccination clinics for patients ages 9 and older at Baltimore County sites throughout October.

For more information or to schedule an appointment for a free flu vaccination at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, go to baltimorecountymd.gov/flu or call 410-887-3816.

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