Officials caution against putting off innoculation
By Kim Walter - email@example.com
Autumn may have just officially started over the weekend, but valley residents shouldn't wait until winter to get a flu vaccination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza seasons are unpredictable, and can begin as early as October. While some folks might choose to wait to get the vaccine until later in the year so that its effects will last longer, Lord Fairfax Health District Director Charles Devine cautioned against putting it off.
"People need to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available because we can't predict when the flu is going to come to town," he said Monday afternoon. "You want to be protected before it gets here, rather than playing catch up."
For those who do have to "play catch up," the risk could still be great for them to come down with the flu.
"After getting the vaccine, it takes two weeks for your body to respond with the immunity," Devine added. Getting the vaccine now will provide protection all the way through the flu season, which typically peaks in January and can last until May.
The vaccine is recommended for anyone who is at least 6 months of age or older. People who are at high risk of developing serious complications if they get sick with the flu include those with certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease; pregnant women; and those over the age of 65.
Devine, along with the CDC, suggests that everyone get the flu vaccine every year.
"There are two reasons to get it every year," he said. "One, there is some loss of protection over the course of a year. The second reason doesn't really play a role in this year's vaccine, but it could next year. The vaccine is adjusted to contain different antigens based on what variety of the illness is circulating."
According to the CDC website, the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine is made from the following: an influenza B-like virus, an influenza A or H1N1-like virus, and an influenza A or H3N2-like virus.
Devine said the vaccine does nothing against the new variant of swine flu because it isn't common for the illness to be transmitted from human to human.
Most places that give the flu vaccine will offer it as the typical shot, or by the intramuscular method. Some places, Devine said, may also offer it in the form of a nasal spray. A newer method, intradermal, "uses a much smaller needle and requires less antigen to have the same effectiveness as other methods," he said.
The local health department is now offering flu vaccines every Monday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on a walk-in basis at all five locations. The cost is $25. Devine said the health department participates with "just about every health plan," including Medicare and Medicaid. Appointments can also be made if residents are unable to get their vaccine during the walk-in times.
"I am very happy to say that I've seen many signs advertising the vaccines in our area," Devine said. "It's great that residents have the opportunity to get their flu vaccine on just about every street corner."
Manufactures have projected that between 146 million and 149 million doses of the vaccine will be produced, and Devine said that no one should worry about there being a shortage of it in the local health district.
As for how the upcoming flu season will be for residents, it's a little too soon to tell.
"It's very hard to predict how the season will be at this point," Devine said. "All I can say is it's unpredictable, so it's best for everyone to get vaccinated now."
Starting Oct. 12, the CDC will provide the public with "FluView," which consists of weekly updates on the flu season, reports of the illness and key "flu indicators." To learn more, visit cdc.gov/flu/weekly.