This year’s flu vaccine — whether by injection or nasal mist — is loaded against three prevalent strains that the medical industry feels could come knocking as early as ... now. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2010 vaccine guards against the H1N1 (swine flu), H3N2 and Influenza B.
Serum availability shouldn’t be a problem either.
CDC reports vaccine makers plan to produce some 180 million doses of the three-in-one drug. That’s good news because last winter the H1N1 virus infected an estimated 50 million people. CDC estimates H1N1 killed from 9,000 to 18,000 people.
Locally, vaccines are already available in most routine locations — pharmacies, department stores, groceries, retailers, individual businesses, walk-in clinics, doctors’ offices and the Bradley County Health Department. Unlike some years, access is not limited, meaning those who want the vaccine should be able to get it.
Eloise Waters, Health Department director, said the local facility is already making appointments for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Walk-ins are accepted on Wednesdays. Health Department hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Appointments can be booked by calling 728-7020 and pressing “0.”
“Supplies won’t be an issue this year,” Waters stressed. “We should have plenty.”
The Health Department director said she is hearing the chatter that this year’s flu season could be a lighter one but she takes nothing for granted.
“We are hearing the flu season this year won’t be as severe,” Waters offered. “It usually hits us (Southeast Tennessee area) in late December and early January.”
Of course, anything less than last winter could be considered light because of the H1N1 spread. The swine flu virus hasn’t fizzled completely; it’s still around although some medical experts believe it has partially run its course.
But take nothing for granted, professionals warn.
That’s the urging of Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, a division of the CDC.
On a CDC website (www.flu.gov), she described the flu bug as unpredictable and issued a reminder that H1N1 can resurface.
“It (flu) can attack even healthy people and it can send children and adults to the hospital,” Schuchat cautioned. “The first and most important step in protecting against the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season, and CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older be vaccinated.”
At the local Health Department, the flu injection is available for anyone age 19 and over, as well as for infants age 6 months to 2 years. The nasal mist is available only for children ages 2 to 18. The general public is welcome to get their vaccine at the Health Department. The site is not just for low income residents. However, if payment is an issue, a sliding fee based on income and household size is used, Waters explained.
Typical flu vaccine costs in the community will range from $25 to $29 or more. Many employers provide flu shots for their workers free or at discounted rates.
“If you don’t have the money, don’t let that keep you from getting the vaccine,” Waters said. This is why the sliding fee is available at the Health Department.
Last year’s H1N1 virus and flu vaccines were separate but this year’s “triple protection” or “all in one” vaccine means residents will need only one injection or nasal mist application in most cases.
Schuchat reminded those still straddling the fence of indecision that getting the vaccine is as much a defense for others.
“When you get vaccinated against the flu, you can protect not only yourself, but your family, friends and others,” Schuchat said. “Also keep in mind, your flu vaccine helps protect children younger than 6 months of age who are too young to get vaccinated themselves. Your vaccine also reduces the chance of you spreading the flu to those who are at high risk from serious flu complications.”
She added, “As more people are vaccinated against the flu, less flu will spread through your community.”
That includes Cleveland and Bradley County.
The peak of flu season is generally January and February, but it can rear its buggy head as early as October and November.
A few flu facts as provided by CDC:
- Each year in the U.S. some 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu.
- Approximately 4 million children get the flu.
- Some $1.7 billion is spent on medical costs for children with the flu.
- An additional $2.1 billion is spent in indirect costs like missing work to care for sick children.
A final sobering note from CDC reads, “If you’re exposed to influenza, symptoms may appear out of the blue. Chills are often the first indication that you’ve got the flu and fever of over 100 is very common. You may experience a sore throat, dry cough and headaches, as well as an achy feeling in your legs and back. Sometimes the flu leaves patients feeling so ill, weak and tired that they remain in bed for days.”
That means loss of work.
And potentially lost pay.
This contagious respiratory illness can also lead to pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections, the CDC reports.