Flu shots key to health protection this season, officials say


Health officials are urging everyone six months and older to get their annual seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as possible, especially if they are at high risk for serious flu-related complications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October before flu season begins.  Morgan-Berkeley County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Terrence Reidy encouraged people to get their seasonal flu shots as soon as possible, by the beginning of November at the latest.

River Bend Family Medicine medical assistant Becky Huff said they usually give flu shots from the end of September through the end of October to their patients.  They haven’t seen any cases of the flu yet at their office.

According to the CDC, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever during the 2020-2021 flu season to protect yourself and those around you from the flu and to help reduce the strain on the healthcare system due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu this fall and winter is vital because of the pandemic.

Flu, pneumonia vaccines

Flu season can begin as early as October and can last as late as May. Typically flu season peaks between December and March each year.

It takes around two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection from the flu. CDC officials noted that vaccinating early in July or August may lead to reduced protection against the flu later in the season, especially among older adults.  Getting the flu vaccine later in the season can still be beneficial.

The CDC thinks it’s likely that flu viruses and the SARS CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading this fall and winter. Getting a flu vaccine won’t protect people from COVID-19, but a flu shot has many important benefits.

Flu vaccines provide protection from influenza and prevent flu-related complications, missed days of work and school and many flu-related hospitalizations and deaths each year.

Pneumonia vaccines are also recommended for children and adults of all ages.  Children and people 65 years of age and older are the most susceptible to pneumonia.

Flu/COVID-19 test

CDC officials noted that they have developed a test that can check for Influenza A and B strains and the SARS CoV-2 virus at the same time.  It will help determine how flu and COVID-19 are spreading and prevention steps that need taken.

The CDC said that laboratory-confirmed flu activity is presently low and that elevated influenza-like illness is most likely related to COVID-19.

Influenza-like illness is defined as a fever of 100 degrees or more, cough and/or sore throat. Influenza-like illness is at a minimal level in West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Vaccine make-up, availability

For 2020-2021, the flu vaccine contains a H1N1 Influenza A virus strain, a H3N2 Influenza A virus strain, an Influenza B Victoria virus strain and an Influenza B Yamagata virus strain.

A high-dose influenza vaccine is recommended for those age 65 and older due to their lower immunity.

This season’s flu vaccines were updated to better match the flu viruses expected to be circulating.

Some 87.5 million doses of flu vaccine have already been distributed as of September 18.

Manufacturers are projecting providing 194-198 million doses of flu vaccine this season, a record amount over the 175 million doses given last flu season. CDC officials said that manufacturers aren’t reporting any significant delays in manufacturing flu vaccines at this time.

Flu and pneumonia vaccines are available through county health departments, family physicians and pharmacies. Ask your doctor about the best flu and pneumonia vaccine options for you and your family.

Complications, high risk

Influenza can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections.  Complications can require hospitalization and become life-threatening or fatal. Influenza can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as asthma or congestive heart disease.

Individuals at high risk of developing flu complications include children under age 5, especially those under age 2, adults over 50 years old, especially those 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and nursing home and long-term care facility residents.

Others at high risk include those with asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver disorders and those with weakened or suppressed immune systems.

Seasonal influenza vaccination is very important for those at high risk of flu-related complications, for caretakers and family members of those individuals and health care personnel.