La Clínica staff from the flu vaccine outdoor clinic in Fruitvale. Credit: Amir Aziz

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Flu season is here and COVID cases are increasing throughout the county—a potentially dangerous combination for at-risk groups, according to public health officials. But Oakland health providers say fewer people are getting their flu vaccinations this year, in part because of disruptions caused by the pandemic. 

“Because we are seeing fewer patients in person [due to COVID restrictions], the volume of vaccines that we have given so far is way down from previous years,” said Lynne Rosen, who runs the flu clinic at La Clinica de La Raza in Fruitvale. 

In the past, La Clinica has run massive, free to the public, indoor immunization clinics during flu season that can serve 40 to 50 patients in one afternoon. This year, due to COVID precautions, the vaccination clinic was moved outdoors (next to the COVID testing site off 35th Ave.) and is limited to registered patients. Non-members can register to become patients and fees are on a sliding scale based on income. 

As a result of these necessary changes, said Rosen, fewer people have been vaccinated: This year, the clinic has administered about 600 doses, compared to 1,500 at this time last year.

“The numbers are not good,” said Rosen, who added that the clinic is doing everything it can to increase capacity while maintaining safety for patients and staff. “We are still troubleshooting in terms of staffing and space to see how to increase our patient volume at the outdoor clinic, safely.” 

While La Clinica isn’t currently providing free flu shots to the general public, the county health department has operated pop-up clinics elsewhere. Earlier this month, the county ran a one-day clinic at McClymonds High School in West Oakland; and on Election Day, vaccinations were offered for free at the Coliseum, which also served as a voting site

La Clinica’s vaccination programs aren’t the only ones in Oakland that have been impacted by the pandemic. Another immunization effort, “Shoo the Flu,” a county-run program where flu shots are given at schools, won’t occur this year due to campus closures. Last year, 95 Oakland schools participated in the program.

While the pandemic has hampered immunization efforts, Rosen emphasized that  getting vaccinated is more important than ever, precisely because of COVID-19. “If you were to get infected with both influenza and COVID at the same time, that could potentially cause severe illness,” she said. “Also, COVID can cause so many different symptoms. Right now, for anybody that has a runny nose, a cough, or sore throat, it’s recommended that they get tested [for COVID] and isolate until their results come back. And, flu symptoms are going to be very difficult to distinguish from COVID symptoms.”

Still, Rosen has reason to feel hopeful about this year’s flu season. “The southern hemisphere had a very light influenza season. I think it was because of all the masking and social distancing,” she said. “I think it’s possible that if we’re able to stay vigilant and continue to socially distance and mask up, that we may also experience a light flu season.”

She hopes the county will provide more free clinics, especially in highly-impacted COVID neighborhoods in East Oakland. “I’m hoping that they’ll be able to run more clinics in the future,” Rosen said. “My dream would be that the county staff a clinic like the one in our parking lot where we could include the whole Fruitvale community.” 

La Clínica’s Brynn Ashley speaks with Vaccine Champion Dr. Irene Landaw, MD about the importance of getting the flu vaccine, especially this year.

Below is a partial list of locations in Oakland offering free and low-cost flu shots. We will update the guide as more information is available. 

Flu shot locations in oakland

Free for those who are low-income and/or uninsured:

Roots Community Health Center

Where: 7272 MacArthur Blvd. 

When: Dec. 1, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 2, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 15, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 16, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

What: Roots partnered with Anthem Blue Cross to provide a series of vaccine clinics to provide free flu shots to anyone 3 years old and up. 

How: Appointments can be made online. You can show-up without registering and receive a flu shot as long as supplies last.

Roots Community Health Center / Covenant House

Where: 200 Harrison St.

When: Dec. 9, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and Dec. 16, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

What: Second clinic location for Roots partnership with Anthem Blue Cross; free flu shots for anyone 3 years old and up. 

How: Appointments can be made online. You can show-up without registering and receive a flu shot as long as supplies last.

Order of Malta Medical Clinic

Where: 2121 Harrison St. 

When: Dec. 7, 14, 21 and 28, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

What: Free walk-in flu clinic

How: No appointment needed.

For La Clínica patients only:

La Clínica de La Raza 

Where: corner of 35th Ave. and East 12th St. (BART parking lot)

When: Tuesdays and Fridays, 9:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., Wednesdays 1:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. 

What: Free flu shots for La Clinica registered patients; non-members can call in advance to register at 510-535-3600.

How: No appointment needed; walk-up only.

Low-cost or free with most insurance plans:

CVS Pharmacies

Where: Check the online site for availability

When: Appointment dates and times vary depending on availability.

What: Free (with medical and medicare part b), or low cost ($39.99 for the seasonal vaccine and $69.99 for the high-dose version). 

How: Answer an online questionnaire, and select the site where you want to go. Walk-ins are also available.

Walgreens Pharmacies

Where: Check the online site for availability

When: Appointment dates and times vary depending on availability. 

What: Free (depending on the type of insurance) or low-cost ($40.99) vaccine. 

How: You can schedule an appointment online. Make sure to bring your insurance information (if insured), a photo ID, and the completed assessment/consent form. You can download, print, and fill out the form. Walk-ins are also available.

Rite-Aid Pharmacies

Where: Check the online site for availability

When: Appointment dates and times vary depending on availability. 

What: Free (depending on the type of insurance) or low-cost ($30.99) vaccine. 

How: You can schedule an appointment online. Make sure to bring your insurance information (if insured), a photo ID, and the completed assessment/consent form. You can download, print, and fill out the form. Walk-ins are also available.

Safeway 

Where: 3550 Fruitvale Ave., 6310 College Ave., and 5100 Broadway

When: Appointment dates and times vary depending on availability. 

What: The vaccine is free with most insurances or low-cost ($55-$85).

How: Fill out the questionnaire/consent form online, and select which Safeway you’d like to go to. Walk-ins are also available.

Kaiser Permanente members:

Where: 4501 Broadway, 380 W MacArthur, and 3801 Howe St.

When: Monday through Friday from 10 a.m to 4 p.m 

What: Outdoor drive-through clinic, the flu vaccine is free of cost to all Kaiser members.

How: No appointment needed

Other resources:

The Alameda County Public Health Department also has a list of flu clinics, which you can find here

The Vaccine Finder website lists additional locations for those with private insurance.

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.