Mayor Garcetti and USC to help Angelenos get free flu shots

The vaccinations are more necessary than ever with COVID-19 looming as flu season approaches, health officials say.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the USC School of Pharmacy have partnered to provide no-cost, no-appointment flu shots to Angelenos. The program is a consolidated effort to create easier access to flu shots and avoid overwhelming hospitals with concurrent COVID-19 and flu cases.

“Getting a flu shot should be part of everyone’s annual routine, and working alongside the USC School of Pharmacy, we will make this life-saving vaccination available more widely, quickly and efficiently to people across our city,” Garcetti said when announcing the program on Tuesday.

The vaccination initiative began September 22, 2020 at the Weingart East L.A. YMCA in Boyle Heights. The program will move next week to the Crenshaw Christian Center, located at 7901 S. Vermont Ave., on Wednesday, Sept. 30. New sites will be added each week to the program.

The city stated that each vaccination site will include precautions such as physical distancing, strict mask requirements, and other measures to maintain health and safety for patients and staff. USC Pharmacy teams will also be screening to ensure people can safely receive the flu vaccine.

Dr. Richard Dang, a USC professor and member of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California COVID-19 Testing Task Force, spearheaded the vaccination collaboration between USC and the city of Los Angeles.

Dang initially met with the mayor’s office to plan for the potential rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine once it is developed. As discussions on the rollout progressed, he began to think about how the flu vaccine this year could function as a pilot example of how the COVID-19 vaccine distribution could work.

“There is going to be a need. There is going to be a demand for it,” said Dang in an interview with Annenberg Media. “And we can take a lot of lessons that we learned during this upcoming flu season ...and then we can apply them to whenever the COVID-19 vaccine is available later this year, next year, whenever that might be.”

Additionally, this initiative will help USC pharmacy and the city of Los Angeles serve typically underserved communities and address health inequities, Dang added.

“We know that there are a lot of areas that don’t currently have access to COVID testing, and if they do even have access to their doctor’s office, so many doctors offices are either closed or limited. Services are only telehealth. So they may not be coming in as physically to get a flu vaccine,” Dang said. “By partnering with the mayor’s office in the city of Los Angeles, we’re able to really bring our services to the areas that need it the most.”

Programs like the new vaccination initiative are intended to help prevent a “twindemic” of both COVID-19 and the flu.

USC School of Pharmacy Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos said everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot starting now, before flu season begins.

“It is likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading these coming months,” Papadopoulos said in a press release. “So this year, it is more important than ever to get a flu vaccine.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu vaccinations in 2018-2019 prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths.

The flu vaccine initiative was organized in coordination with the USC School of Pharmacy and USC Pharmacies in the city of Los Angeles in cooperation with the mayor’s office, Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the LA County Department of Public Health, LA Fire Department and The Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE).