The flu shot signs have begun to blossom at local pharmacies. Here’s what you need to know about the influenza vaccine this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Why should I get one? The vaccine reduces your chances of contracting influenza, although it doesn’t completely prevent those chances. It’s worth a stick in the arm to reduce the possibility of an illness that makes you miserable for a week to 10 days. You also can view it as a public good because when more people get the vaccine it slows the spread of of a virus that can kill those with other underlying health problems. In the 2013-2014 season, which runs through the end of September, the flu has caused 1,942 hospitalizations and 78 deaths in South Carolina, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Why do we need shots every year? Two reasons: The dominant influenza virus mutates year-to-year, and the effect of the annual flu vaccine wears off with time. Some studies indicate a level of protection can continue into a second year for young adults, but that level is much lower than if you get a new shot. Why take the chance?
Where can I get one? Most major pharmacies in the Midlands already have the vaccine in stock. Physician offices and health clinics usually get their supplies a week or two after the large chain pharmacies. The CDC expects there there will be no shortage of vaccine this year.
When should I get one? For most people, as soon as possible in case the season begins earlier than usual. Typically in South Carolina, the season peaks in early winter. Two years ago, it peaked in December. The unusual H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic in 2009 peaked in October in South Carolina. The season that ends this month peaked in early February. Studies have indicated the protection begins to wear off more quickly in people age 65 and older, maybe as soon as six months. But those findings haven’t been overwhelming enough to persuade the CDC to recommend seniors wait until October or later to get their shots. Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist at DHEC, says seniors are better off taking advantage of their first opportunity to get a flu shot rather than possibly waiting too long.
How much does it cost? If you don’t have health insurance, shots are in the $25 range in most places. But Medicare, Medicaid and most health insurance policies now pay for flu shots. Ask your insurance company to be sure, but changes due to the Affordable Care Act require most new insurance policies to cover flu shots. Some policies cover shots as a medical benefit rather than a pharmacy benefit. That might require extra steps to cover the cost of getting a shot at a pharmacy.
Who should get one? Just about everyone age 6 months and older. The exceptions include people who have a severe allergy to eggs, people who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination before, and people who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine. If you’ve had a severe illness recently, you should wait until fully recovered to get a flu shot.
Do I have to get stuck by a needle? Not necessarily. There is a nasal vaccine, recommended for ages 2-49. People getting the nasal vaccine are more likely to suffer side-effects such as runny nose, headache, sore throat or cough.
What’s new with the vaccine this year? Not much. The trivalent flu vaccine is very similar to last year’s, protecting against two influenza A viruses (an H1N1 and an H3N2) and an influenza B virus. There also is a quadrivalent vaccine available that protects against another B virus.