As fall inches closer, you’ve likely seen signs at your local pharmacy advertising a flu shot. And while you should definitely get a flu shot this year, local health experts say it is probably better to wait a few more weeks until October to get vaccinated.
National organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention typically recommend getting a flu shot as soon as it is available, but prior to the end of October.
But Carroll County’s Deputy Health Officer Dr. Henry Taylor said when crunching the numbers, local data shows flu season really picks up in November in terms of emergency room visits and, in recent years, Carroll has seen a second flu epidemic associated with B strains of the flu virus that tend to hit later in winter and extend into the month of April.
By holding off on getting a flu shot until early October, the timing is right to provide protection into the spring months.
The influenza vaccine takes about two weeks to begin offering full protection, but then lasts for about six months. Because of this, the Health Department and community partners will begin offering flu clinics next month at senior centers, in schools and at the department’s offices in Westminster.
Clinics are scheduled for Oct. 9 at the South Carroll senior center, Oct. 11 in Westminster, Oct. 17 in Taneytown, Oct. 23 at the North Carroll senior center and Oct. 30 in Mount Airy. Vaccinations in Carroll County Public Schools will take place between Oct. 22 and Oct 25, while the Health Department will host clinics in November for children who miss the in-school clinics.
Residents may also get the flu shot from their primary care physician, urgent care centers, CVS, Rite Aid or Walgreen’s, Target and Walmart, and pharmacies at grocers like Giant, Martin’s and Safeway, according to Carroll Hospital’s “seasonal flu” page on its website. There may be others that are not listed. Of course, check to make sure your insurance is accepted before making an appointment to get a flu shot at any of these places. Access Carroll also provides flu shots for their patients.
Who should get a flu shot? Ideally, everyone 6 months or older. But it is most important that our youngest and oldest residents are vaccinated, along with pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, lung disease or heart disease. Those groups are the most susceptible to complications from getting the flu, which can occasionally be lethal.
According to the CDC, 172 pediatric flu-related deaths occurred during the 2017-18 flu season, the highest number on record since the organization began tracking in 2004. About 80 percent of those deaths occurred in children who had not received the flu vaccination for last year’s season.
Different types of the influenza vaccine are available, although health officials recommend the quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four strains of flu rather than the trivalent, which protects against three. A high-dose vaccine is also available, although you should check with your doctor first to see if one type of flu shot is better than the other.
And some good news for parents of children who hate getting their shots, the FluMist nasal spray is once again an option. Although the Health Department will not be offering it this year at it’s in-school clinics because the supply wasn’t ready in time, FluMist has been reformulated after issues with its effectiveness in recent years, and may be available through your pediatrician’s office.
Regardless of where you go to get vaccinated, we do encourage everyone to do so. Because getting the flu shot isn’t just about you, it’s about protecting everyone you come in contact with — including those who, for whatever reason, cannot get a flu shot themselves.
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To learn more about the flu, where the vaccine is available and keep up with any changes throughout the upcoming flu season, visit the Health Department’s flu page at cchd.maryland.gov/flu.