By Starrla Cray
For those who missed local flu shot clinics earlier this fall, don’t worry it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
Flu season typically peaks in January and February, but the flu can still be around as late as May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That said, it’s best to get the shot as early as possible, because it takes about two weeks to kick in.
“We start the beginning of September, as soon as the vaccine is available,” said Michelle Schaal, assistant director of nursing at Good Samaritan Society in Howard Lake.
So far this year, 90 percent of residents have opted for the shot, as well as 60 percent of staff. By the end of the flu season last year, more than three-fourths of employees had been vaccinated.
Good Samaritan Society was one of 219 health care facilities to participate in Minnesota FluSafe in 2012-13. Sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the program’s goal is for 100 percent of eligible health care workers to be vaccinated.
“Every year we have a staff competition, with teams like Cough Crusaders and Fatigue Fighters,” Schaal said. “Whichever team has the highest number of people vaccinated gets a prize.”
Nationwide, the rates of influenza vaccination of health care workers is estimated at 66.7 percent.
Fact vs. fiction
People who choose to skip the vaccine are sometimes misinformed, according to Schaal.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about it,” she said. “Some people think you can get the flu from it, and some people are just plain stubborn.”
According to the CDC, the myth that the shot causes the flu is just that a myth. The viruses contained in the shot are dead, which makes them unable to cause infection. In studies where some people get flu shots and others receive placebos, no difference was reported in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose, or sore throat.
“If people get sick right after getting the flu shot, it’s just a coincidence,” said Ashley Newman, a nurse at Ridgeview Clinic in Winsted.
“If you already have the flu, it won’t cure it,” added Alicia Briesemeister, a pharmacist at Target in Hutchinson.
Shots at pharmacies
Target’s pharmacy is one of many places offering the flu vaccine this season.
“We’ve been busy,” Briesemeister said.
“People can come in any day; they don’t need an appointment,” said Cathy McLagan, who also works at Target’s pharmacy. “If we’re not backed up, the entire process takes about 20 minutes.”
Keaveny Drug in Winsted offered the flu shot at three clinics this fall.
“It’s really taken off,” said Keaveny’s Brad Hagedorn.
In 2006-07, pharmacies administered about 7 percent of adult flu shots, according to The Slate Group. By last year, it was up to 18 percent.
Health care clinics also offer vaccines. At Glencoe Regional Health Care Services (GRHS), which has locations in Lester Prairie, Glencoe, and Stewart, flu shot clinics were offered throughout October. The last clinic will take place Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Glencoe. Appointments are required.
Participation in the clinics has been high, according to GRHS employee Stephanie Baumgarten.
“It’s in the hundreds,” she said.
For those who don’t make it to a flu shot clinic, health care providers also offer separate “flu vaccination-only appointments.”
Which vaccine to get?
At Ridgeview in Winsted, Newman said patients are asked a few questions to determine the best type of vaccine for them.
Several vaccine options are available this year. Some protect against three strains of the flu, while one protects against four strains.
“A new one this year uses a needle that’s not as long,” Briesemeister said, explaining that the injection goes into the skin instead of the muscle.
An option for people who want to avoid a shot altogether is a nasal spray, approved for ages 2 through 49. Unlike the flu shot, the nasal spray vaccine contains live viruses. The viruses are weakened, however, and are not designed to cause flu illness.
The CDC states that vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu, but it doesn’t recommend one type of vaccine over the other. According to flu.gov, people who get the flu vaccine are 60 percent less likely to need treatment for the flu.
Older people, or those with weaker immune systems, are less likely to experience adequate flu protection after vaccination. As a result, a high-dose vaccine is available for ages 65 and older.
Stop the spread
The flu can be a serious and sometimes life-threatening illness, especially for older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions.
If someone has the flu, they should be careful not to spread the disease to others. According to the CDC, people can begin to infect others one day before symptoms develop, and about seven days after becoming sick.
Symptoms of influenza include a possible fever and/or chills, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle/body aches, headaches, fatigue, and possibly vomiting or diarrhea (more common in children than adults).