With the arrival of cold weather comes flu season and the need to be vaccinated.
This year, there are some key changes about influenza vaccination programs in Harford County, according to local health officials, and free flu shot clinics will be offered next month for school-age children only.
The Harford County Health Department urges everyone in the county ages six months or older to be vaccinated against the flu.
The first reported case of flu in Maryland was on Oct. 7, which is about a month earlier than last year, Harford Health Office Susan Kelly said during her six-month Board of Health update to the Harford County Council on Oct. 18. The council also sits as the county's Board of Health.
"It's important [to be vaccinated] because it will reduce sickness, it will reduce time missed from school, time missed for work, and it will also reduce hospitalizations and doctors visits," Kelly told the council members. "Flu is very, very serious. Sometimes people take it too lightly."
This year, there is "one significant difference – only injectable vaccines should be used," Kelly said, explaining there will no school-based FluMist clinics.
The Harford Health Department, however, is offering the seasonal flu shot free to any school-age child, kindergarten through 12th grade.
The department's clinics will be held at the following times and locations:
• Dec. 9, Red Pump Elementary School media center, 600 Red Pump Road in Bel Air, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.;
• Dec. 12, Health Department building at Woodbridge Center, 1321 Woodbridge Station Way in Edgewood, 4 to 6 p.m.;
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• Dec. 17, Patterson Mill Middle/High School, 85 Patterson Mill Road in Bel Air South, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs, causing mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.
According to the Health Department, children, especially school-age children, are more likely to catch the flu, and a typical flu illness can mean missing a week or more of school. Also, once infected, children can spread the flu to parents and siblings, other family members and friends.
"The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year," Kelly said in a news release announcing the youth clinics. "Only injectable flu vaccines (given as a shot) are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics this season."
The Health Department clinics "are offered exclusively for school-aged youth, regardless of public, private or home schooling (and not available to adults), as a means of ensuring opportunities for all children to be vaccinated against seasonal flu," Health Department spokesperson William Wiseman said via email last week.
There are many other ways in which Harford County adult residents and children who haven't reached school age can receive flu shots, he said, including doctor's offices, urgent care centers and pharmacies.
"There are no more community clinics for adults, given the available venues and opportunities (at pharmacies and such) for them to receive vaccinations and to have them paid for by health insurance as a covered 'preventative' benefit," Wiseman said.