Vials of the COVID-19 vaccine at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. Credit: Department of Defense photo by Lisa Ferdinando

On Saturday, December 10, New Orleans East Hospital will be offering free flu vaccines to the public, with a new initiative to give residents a $20 gift card. The hospital will also be offering COVID-19 vaccines at the event. 

With flu cases spiking statewide, public health officials are finding new ways to encourage local residents to get vaccinated.

“The flu, RSV virus and COVID-19 triple threat are bringing a wave of patients, especially our children and seniors,” said Dr. Takeisha Charles Davis, Chief Executive Officer of New Orleans East Hospital.

Today, the number of healthcare visits in the state for flu-like illness are above the national and regional averages. As of Dec. 8, 10.3% of healthcare visits in Louisiana were for flu-like illness — compared to a regional average of 8.6%  and a national average of 7.5% — surpassing the last five flu seasons, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. 

This particularly active flu season comes as COVID-19 cases have recently increased in Louisiana. 

New Orleans, a majority Black city, was an early hotspot for the virus. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, people of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Communities of color face racial disparities, stigmas and barriers such as access to medical care, mistrust of the healthcare system, and lack of awareness about the importance of vaccines.

The rising cost for access to healthcare is a burden on low-income families or individuals who are unable to afford medical insurance. Closing the equity gap through free, easy-to-access programs for higher risk populations can help increase vaccination rates and mitigate spread. Partnered with FLU Ready NOLA, free vaccines will be available to everyone ages seven and up.

“Because of the cost related to death and disability, we thought it was important to make sure that there’s no cost for people to get effective vaccines that can help them avoid sickness,” said Dr. Keith C. Ferdinand, chair of preventative cardiology at Tulane University of Medicine. “Especially for older people and people with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, sickle cell disease, and even the risk of death,” Ferdinand said.

Making a plan to get vaccinated is the first step to building community immunity. Starting at 10 a.m. until 2 p.m, the New Orleans East Hospital will provide free vaccines as well as COVID-19 booster shots. The first 100 people will qualify for a $20 gift card. 

“Sign up today, because your health matters,” said Dr. Charles Davis.

Sign up in advance at FLU Ready NOLA. Walk-ins are also accepted.

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New Orleans native Nigell Moses graduated summa cum laude from Xavier University of Louisiana with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. She is a published contributing writer, with stories in The...