It's hard to believe, but the flu vaccination season is almost upon us. Government officials and vaccine makers already are ready -- provided there are no surprises like last year's H1N1 flu virus.
Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have approved vaccines for the 2010-2011 influenza season. And this year's dose will protect against three strains of flu, including the H1N1 flu virus that caused the pandemic last year.
So, there will only be one shot needed this season, not two. And there won't be any long lines at government-sponsored clinics. This will all be done in the doctors' office, at the drug store clinic and other usual places.
Between 5 and 20 percent of Americans catch the flu every year, and approximately 36,000 people die.
"The best way to protect yourself and your family against influenza is to get vaccinated every year," said Dr. Karen Midthun, acting director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement. "The availability of a new seasonal influenza vaccine each year is an important tool in the prevention of influenza related illnesses and death."
And just because there was next to no seasonal flu last season and the H1N1, or swine, flu wasn't as deadly as everyone was anticipating, it hit kids particularly hard. No one can say what this year will bring, and officials say everyone 6 months and older should still get a vaccination.
Generally, the season doesn't begin until October and peak of the season is in January. But the process of vaccinating everyone begins in September, or when doses are shipped.
Gaithersburg-based MedImmune has already begun shipping its nasal spray version of the vaccine, FluMist, to vaccine distributors.
MedImmune expects to provide approximately 15 million doses of its vaccine to doctors' offices, public health departments, schools, military bases and elsewhere.
The spray vaccine will be available in every state but South Dakota. Last year, FluMist was given to approximately a third of the children ages 2 to 18. Parents of kids who did not get last year's H1N1 vaccine should ask their doctors about giving two doses of this year's vaccine.
There are other vaccine makers, and at least one, Novartis Vaccine , has already begun shipping its vaccine Fluvirin. It's also ahead of schedule.
The company said early shipping ensures early immunization programs can be initiated for the most at risk. That includes seniors, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions. The company plans to supply 40 million doses for people 4 and older.
For more information on the flu, go to www.cdc.gov/flu. To get vaccinated, call your doctor, local health department or drug-store for the timing of appointments or clinics.
Associated Press photo