This article appeared in MLive. Read the full story here.

KALAMAZOO, MI — Healthcare officials are urging Kalamazoo County residents to get their flu shot this season to prevent falling ill with influenza and straining medical resources dedicated to COVID-19.

Reducing the number of flu patients will assist healthcare systems currently managing COVID-19 patients, Kalamazoo County Medical Director William Nettleton said.

“The more people are protected from the flu, the more hospital beds and testing supplies can be available during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Nettleton said. “This further protects yourself, your family, and your community.”

Coronavirus cases in Kalamazoo County reached 3,346 on Wednesday, Oct. 6. That number includes both confirmed and probable cases. There have been 96 deaths in the county linked to the virus.

In total, there have been 191 hospitalizations in the county, including 188 confirmed COVID-19 cases and three probable cases. In September, 18 people were admitted into the hospital due to a confirmed or probable coronavirus case. County data shows this was an increase compared to August’s hospital admission of nine people.

The county health department partnered with Ascension Borgess, Bronson Healthcare, Family Health Center, and WMed Health to spread the word on how to stop the virus. The flu season typically starts in October and can last as late as May.

The five healthcare partners are launching a flu vaccine campaign in hopes of reaching a 33% increase in the number of people getting the vaccine in Kalamazoo County. As part of that campaign, a flu vaccine tracker will be added to the Kalamazoo County Data Hub. Residents will be able to track both the number of flu vaccines given out during this flu season and the coverage rate in comparison to the last flu season.

As of Friday, Oct. 2., 8.29% of the county had received a vaccine. This was slightly below last year’s average at this point in time which was 9.16% of the county population.

In recent years, there has been a decline in vaccination in the age groups 18-24 and 50-64, county epidemiologist Mary Franks said.

The health department advises every person six months and older should get an annual flu vaccine, especially certain groups considered at the highest risk. Those include young children, pregnant women, adults who have chronic health conditions and adults older than 50.

The flu shot takes approximately two weeks to provide full protection against the influenza virus. The health department recommends residents receive their vaccine before the holiday season begins.

The Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department offers flu vaccinations by appointment only 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Most insurance plans will cover these vaccines’ cost, but no one will be turned away from the health department for an inability to pay.

For questions regarding the influenza vaccine or to find vaccine locations in the community, visit www.kalcounty.com/hcs/fluvaccine/. To schedule an appointment at the health department, contact the Health & Community Services Department at 269-373-5203.