As fall approaches, VA health care providers are preparing their annual fight against influenza. Because receiving an annual vaccination is widely recognized as the best method for preventing disease and death related to influenza, VA orders almost two million doses of flu vaccine annually to be administered at VA medical centers and community based outpatient clinics. The local VA clinics have not said when they will be able to provide them, but I will let you know as soon as I know. Flu shots are the cornerstone of prevention efforts and are provided free. In addition to vaccination, it’s also important to educate the VA community of the importance of hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and of course, staying home when sick. This flu season VHA has again teamed up with national retail pharmacy Walgreens to provide free quadrivalent flu vaccinations for enrolled Veterans through the VA Retail Immunization Care Coordination Program. This partnership offered greater access to flu vaccine, and as a result more than 70,000 Veteran patients received flu shots at a local Walgreens last year. We expect even more will this year. The partnership between VA and Walgreens continues to grow and the current vaccination period is now through March 31, 2018. All Veterans who are currently enrolled in VA care may walk into any of the over 8,000 Walgreens nationally to receive a vaccination at no cost. After presenting a Veterans identification card and a photo ID, a Walgreens pharmacist administers the vaccine and transmits that information securely to VA where it becomes part of the patient’s electronic medical record. This program has been especially beneficial to enrolled Veterans who live in rural areas. Because many may live at greater distances from VA medical facilities, the Walgreens partnership provides increased access to no cost flu vaccinations. Last year 45 percent of the VA patients who received a flu shot at Walgreens were classified as rural or highly rural by the VA zip code map. For more information, contact Sandra at the Veterans Service Office at 602 Strong Ave on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 3pm, or call 365-3612.