Don’t wait to get a flu shot, doctors urge
Doctors are urging patients to get the flu vaccine earlier this year in an effort to get more people vaccinated before the worst of the flu season.
Typically, patients are advised to make sure they are vaccinated by the end of November, but medical professionals have bumped that date up.
“All individuals (older than) 6 months old should receive the vaccine, ideally, by the end of October,” said Dr. Carol Fox, chief medical officer with Excela Health. “It does take two weeks to develop antibodies, so the October date should allow you to develop immunity prior to peak flu season in our area.”
The flu season typically runs from the beginning of October to May. Not only can getting the vaccine prevent someone from getting the flu, but it can help lesson symptoms if infected. Individuals are still urged to get the vaccine even after October.
There were nearly 122,000 flu cases and nearly 260 flu-related deaths in Pennsylvania last flu season, according to the state Department of Health. Those numbers were due mostly to a severe flu strain called H3N2.
“The flu virus is a very resilient virus, and there’s always surprises and unpredictability,” said Pittsburgh-based infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja.
Adalja said it doesn’t appear that H3N2 will be as significant this year, especially since it has been incorporated into vaccines, but it’s too early to predict exactly what strains will be the most prevalent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified two A strains and two B strains of the virus that are included in this year’s vaccine. Those are:
• A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
• A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 A(H3N2)-like virus (updated)
• B/Colorado/06/2017-like (Victoria lineage) virus (updated)
• B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (Yamagata lineage) virus
Dr. Richard Zimmerman, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Pittsburgh, said adults should consider getting the egg-free vaccine this year because research has shown it’s anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent more effective.
“The more you grow things in eggs, the more mutations you have to make in the virus,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said the egg-based vaccine still works best for children.
The CDC is recommending the nasal vaccine because it appears to be more effective against H1N1 strains of the virus than the vaccines were for the past two years.
Adalja said it’s important that people understand common misconceptions of the vaccine — such as the idea that getting the vaccine will make you sick.
“The flu vaccine doesn’t cause the flu,” he said. “Most people when they get vaccinated for influenza are getting vaccinated right into the respiratory virus season.”
Adalja said it’s often just a coincidence if someone gets sick a few days after getting the vaccine.
Dr. Brian Lamb, who practices internal medicine at West Penn Medical Associates, said patients should know they can go to their doctor’s office for a vaccine without much notice. They typically don’t have to make an appointment and wait.
Lamb said last year hospitals and urgent care centers were inundated with people who had the flu. He said to avoid those situations a patient’s first move should be to call their doctor and try to get in with them.
“The biggest thing is, from a primary care standpoint, we try to make sure we have appointments available,” he said. “Avoid going to emergency room — contact your doctor first to see about coming in.”
Aside from the vaccine, individuals should practice good hand washing, cough into their elbow instead of hands and stay home when they are sick.
“A lot of people tend to think they are immune to the flu — no one is,” he said.
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter @emilybalser.