RED WING — Amid concern over a “twin-demic” of influenza and COVID-19 this fall and winter, Mayo Clinic Health System is planning high-volume flu vaccine sites with the goal of immunizing as many area residents against the flu as possible before the end of November.

The sites, including one planned for Red Wing, will replace walk-in and school vaccination clinics, both of which were suspended this season due to the ongoing pandemic, said Dr. Sarah Crane, director of primary care for southeast Minnesota.

Hospitals are typically busier in December and January when there is a surge in flu cases.

“Our ability as a health care system to handle that peak on top of the COVID volumes that we are seeing now or that we are worried we will see this fall is one of our big issues,” Crane said Monday, Sept. 14, during a call with reporters.

Timeliness is another big factor this year, she said, since it takes a couple weeks after a flu shot to develop full immunity.

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“We’re going to push hard to get people done quickly,” Crane said.

Scheduling for flu shots through Mayo Clinic Health System will begin next week with appointment times starting Monday, Sept. 28. Patients will be required to call their local clinic to make an appointment or use the Patient Online Services portal.

The off-site vaccine locations will be set up with distancing and other safety measures in place.

Keep being safe

Reports from the southern hemisphere seem to point to a less severe flu season compared to previous years, likely because of COVID-19 precautions such as face masks and social distancing, Crane said. Though she cautioned that there have been documented cases of people falling ill with COVID-19 and flu at the same time.

Dr. Deepi Goyal, an emergency medicine physician and Mayo Clinic Health System chairman of clinical practice for southeastern Minnesota, reiterated the importance of continuing to follow safety guidelines for masks, distancing and hygiene.

“We just need to continue doing that,” he said.

Symptoms of COVID-19 and flu are similar, including fever, cough, fatigue and aches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the biggest differences is a loss of taste or smell associated with COVID-19.

If a patient contacts the clinic with flu or COVID-19 symptoms, the plan is to test them for both viruses at the same time, Crane said. “We are not going to spend a lot of time trying to hair split on the phone.”

For more information about the flu and to find vaccine locations, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.