• Shutterstock photo. Not for reuse.
    Shutterstock photo. Not for reuse.

UNIONVILLE, Mo. – In addition to educating people in Putnam County on topics such as farm leases and fence laws, University of Missouri Extension county engagement specialist Joe Koenen also strives to educate his north-central Missouri community on the importance of staying healthy this flu season.

“I feel like getting the flu shot is setting a good example,” said Koenen. “My colleagues and I are in a profession that is more likely to spread disease when people come into our offices. I think getting the flu shot is something we should do as a precaution to our community. We don’t need any more people in the hospital, especially with COVID treatments going on. Anything we can do to make the flu less severe is important.”

When he began his career with MU Extension in 1979, Koenen quickly realized his role in the community involved much more than the daily tasks assigned to him. It was also about caring for those he served.

Koenen was 35 when a local doctor visited the county extension center in the basement of the Putnam County Courthouse and gave what Koenen says was “an intense talk.”

“He put into perspective the amount of people we saw in the winter and how we could become big spreaders of the flu in the community,” he said.

Koenen admits that he did not get yearly flu shots before that conversation. His attitude was that he was “young, invincible and didn’t need to get the shot,” he said. “But we all think like that when we are that age.”

However, the doctor’s talk resonated with him. “I have gotten the flu shot every year since then to try and decrease the chances of someone else getting the flu from me.”

Putnam County, home to more than 4,000 Missourians, has a 42% flu vaccination rate. MU Extension nurse specialist Lynelle Phillips said a 60% vaccination rate is the target to achieve herd immunity against the flu. By limiting the spread of a virus from person to person, herd immunity helps protect the entire community, including those who may not be able to safely receive a flu vaccine.

With the health care industry pushed to its limits by the spread of COVID-19, it is especially important to care for our health this winter and spring, Koenen said. Getting a flu vaccine is important not only for your own well-being, he said, but also for the well-being of your family, coworkers and community.

“It is never too late to get the flu shot,” he said.

For more information and to find a flu vaccine site near you, visit

Writer: Aimie Brendel