Flu season has arrived upon Santa Monica and local residents are being encouraged to get their flu shot if they wish to stay as protected as possible from COVID-19 in the coming months.

The City of Santa Monica and County of Los Angeles partnered to host a free flu vaccination clinic Tuesday at Memorial Park where dozens of locals turned out for a chance at a free injection. Similar events have been hosted in previous years, but workers on-site Tuesday said they expected a large crowd in comparison to past events since a lot of residents are trying to stay as protected as possible from the flu, which could potentially make them more susceptible to catching COVID-19 this winter.

Pharmacies across the city are also offering residents the ability to receive a flu vaccination, and UCLA Health doctors said they noticed an increase in the number of people opting to receive flu shots for the first time. “Or they’re at least more willing to have discussions about it, so that’s been kind of nice,” said Dr. Eric Curcio, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health.

In the past, patients who came in to see their doctor adamantly told nurses no when asked if they wished to receive a flu vaccine, but this year, Curcio said, “numbers-wise — we’ve probably seen something around a 20% to 25% increase depending on the office, which is reassuring in some ways because people are taking this seriously. We know a nasty flu season on top of our COVID situation would be a disaster so it’s good to see that so many people have taken that step to actually go and get their flu shots this year.”

There were large numbers of people that ended up getting COVID and the flu at the same time in China, “and we know they did significantly worse than people who normally would just have the flu or even just have COVID,” Curcio added as he detailed how a bad flu season could potentially disrupt testing and care.

“There’s definitely potential for a public health impact this year. We saw in the beginning of this pandemic when we didn’t have enough testing and people who were sick were unable to get tests,” he said. “Even now, we see that when there’s flare-ups that all of a sudden it takes — instead of one day to get your results — it’s now two or three days because we outpaced the testing capacity. So, if we get a nasty flu season on top of the COVID pandemic, as a county, we’d definitely exceed our ability to test everyone as quickly as they should get tested, so a bad flu season on top of everything else is just kind of a recipe for disaster.”

There are personal reasons to do it if you wish to keep yourself and your family safe, but there is also the public health benefit too, Curcio said, “because we need to do everything we can to not have other illnesses on top of this.”

The doctor said he believes health offices are one of the safest places you can be, “so I definitely would encourage anyone to come in who hasn’t had their flu shot yet to get it here, get it at their local pharmacy, get it anywhere, but it is important to get some shots somewhere.”

Technically, doctors consider flu season as the period from November to April but Curcio said Santa Monica hasn’t seen too many cases yet, luckily. “But what I will say is the last couple of years flu season has been getting later and later… Lately, it’s been peaking in February-March and, two years ago, we were still seeing cases in May or June. Last year wasn’t quite that way, but at this point, I recommend people get it as soon as they can just because we are technically into flu season here.”

brennon@smdp.com