Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez gets her flu shot at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, where residents can get theirs starting Saturday. (Photo by Jana Kadah/BCN Foundation)

Starting Saturday, Santa Clara County will be offering free flu shots to residents and will offer them every Saturday in front of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.

“We are officially in the countdown to flu season,” county Board of Supervisors president Cindy Chavez said. “We are also in the middle of a worldwide coronavirus pandemic, which makes it even more important that everyone gets their flu shot.”

The county has always offered free flu shots in clinics, but this is the first time it is having an outdoor service that accommodates those who walk, bike and drive. The effort is because of the increased risk the flu season has in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not a vaccine against COVID. The flu is not related to COVID. You will not get COVID by getting the flu vaccine,” County Executive Jeff Smith said. “What the flu vaccine will do is prevent you from ending up in the hospital and making sure that we have hospital availability for those who do have COVID who are very sick.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the death toll from the flu during the 2019-2020 flu season was 58 percent higher than the previous year.

Since September 2019, more than 700 California residents have died from the flu.

This is in part because the percentage of people up to date on their flu vaccine across the state and in the Bay Area has fallen as residents have delayed routine visits to doctors, according to the county’s Public Health Department.

“You need a flu shot every year and this is not the year to skip it,” county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said.

The flu has similar symptoms to COVID-19, which makes it potentially difficult for doctors to initially distinguish and therefore treat the two, according to Smith.

“That means that basically people will be more at risk if they don’t get the flu vaccine, and if they get both, they will be extremely ill,” Smith said.

The county partnered with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to launch one of the first bike-up sites to increase convenience to all residents.

“We want to make flu shots and COVID-19 tests available and accessible to as many people as possible, but in order to do that you have to think about … can people get there if they don’t have a car or are bike-dependent?” said Shiloh Ballard, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition executive director.

The free vaccine site in front of the blue arch of the fairgrounds is also across the street from the county’s largest COVID-19 testing site, so residents will be able to check off both the flu vaccine and coronavirus testing in one trip.

The vaccination site is open from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. to all residents over the age of 3, regardless of immigration status. It does not require an appointment or proof of insurance. The service will be available every Saturday until mid-December.

“The only thing that is required is a mask,” Chavez said.

The county will also be opening two other flu vaccination locations: Valley Health Center Sunnyvale will be open Saturday and Valley Health Center Moorpark in San Jose will be open Sept. 26. Both will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for residents over 12 years old.

Flu shots will also be available in Santa Clara Valley Medical Center pharmacies on weekdays starting next Tuesday.

More information about the flu and different vaccine sites can be found on the county’s public health department website at sccphd.org/flu.