If you’ve held out on getting the flu shot this season, it’s not too late to see the benefits of vaccination, according to Dr. Steven L. Sheaffer, associate professor of clinical pharmacy in the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
“It’s important for the public to be aware that receiving the flu vaccine each year is the best way to avoid getting the flu,” said Dr. Sheaffer. “Since the supply of flu vaccine is especially adequate this year, everyone over the age of six months, unless they are allergic to or have a contraindication to receiving it, should be encouraged to obtain the vaccine even at this late date.”
The flu shot contains killed influenza virus that when injected with a needle, causes the body to form antibodies against the virus. Another option, the nasal-spray flu vaccine, contains a weakened version of the live influenza virus. The age groups for the spray are somewhat different than the shot, however both are effective options for protection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that five to 20 percent of the population will get the flu each year. Of that number, more than 200,000 people will be hospitalized from flu complications, and about 36,000 people will die from the flu. Fortunately, according to the CDC the 2008-09 flu season will see an all-time high supply of vaccine, making it possible for more people than ever to seek protection from the flu.
While flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, the CDC reports that flu activity most often peaks in February, and can continue to cause illness into the spring, making now a critical time to get vaccinated.
“Roughly two weeks after vaccination, antibodies that provide protection against flu virus infection develop in the body,” said. Dr. Sheaffer. “Because of this incubation period before immunity, the time is now to derive the optimum benefit.”
The flu is commonly treated using prescription antiviral medications that must be taken within the first 48 hours of infection, such as the leading treatment, Tamiflu®. On Dec. 19, 2008, the CDC alerted local health authorities that an early testing of the most common type of seasonal flu found that it has become virtually impervious to Tamiflu®. The Tamiflu®-resistant strain, one of three circulating, is still susceptible to other drugs, but a lack of alternative antiviral medications has complicated the problem. Dr. Sheaffer suggests that in light of the CDC alert, the best option is to get vaccinated.
Even if you’re feeling perfectly healthy and confident that you can resist the flu, healthy people can act as a carrier for the virus and can transmit it to others who are more vulnerable to developing the infection and experiencing its complications, such as family members who may be ill or young children. The flu shot helps to reduce that risk.
Not sure where to get a flu shot? Dr. Sheaffer recommends visiting your local pharmacist. If the pharmacist cannot schedule you for the vaccination (some accept walk in patients) they may be sponsoring additional flu vaccine clinics.
“In many states, pharmacists have obtained additional training and a special license to administer vaccinations to adults, and are making the flu vaccine available either on a walk-in basis or with an appointment, in addition to holding their traditional mass flu vaccination days,” said Dr. Sheaffer. “These methods are helping to increase access to and utilization of the flu vaccine, and to make the process as convenient and easy as possible. There is still plenty of time.”