Health experts in Sacramento County are urging people to get their flu shots early this season.
Doctor’s offices, retail clinics and hospitals will be well stocked by October, which is when influenza viruses typically start circulating. But because it takes about two weeks for the protective properties of vaccines to take effect, getting shots sooner rather than later is a good idea, experts say.
This year’s flu season should be no worse than last year’s.
“The only way we can really forecast the season is based on the strains we expect,” said Dr. David Herbert, chief of infectious diseases at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento and Roseville. “We don’t expect a terrible flu season because there’s no new strain out there.”
The worst flu seasons occur when a new virus begins to circulate. The year 2009 was the harshest in recent memory because the H1N1 virus traveled to the United States from Mexico, Herbert said.
The same immunization formulas used last year will be offered this year. Most have three components: two strains of the A virus and one strain of the B virus.
For the first time, a fourth, more potent vaccine is being offered along with the three standards. The new vaccine has two strains of the A virus and two strains of the B virus.
Herbert said there was little reason to believe that the four-strain vaccine would be more effective than the typical three-strain vaccine. In addition, a new vaccine with far less egg in it will be available for people allergic to eggs.
Vaccines are developed after scientists inject chicken eggs with a virus and then harvest the immunization formula from the embryo. Soon, however, advances in technology will allow scientists to grow vaccines in cell cultures instead.
It’s important to remember, however, that vaccines don’t provide guaranteed protection. “It’s very worrisome because even under the best of circumstances, vaccines are not 100 percent effective,” Herbert said. In order to protect infants or the elderly from getting sick, all members of a household should be vaccinated – not just the vulnerable ones.
County health officials will kick off their free flu shot clinics beginning in October. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 6 months old or older, as well as all adults, be vaccinated. For kids afraid of needles, a nasal spray is available.
Still, even when vaccinated, people should wash their hands thoroughly and cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow.
At school sporting events, athletes should wash up before and after slapping hands with opposing team members. “They wipe their noses on the field, give a high-five to the other team and then eat their snacks,” Herbert said. “You really couldn’t come up with a better way to spread viruses to other people.”
FREE FLU SHOT CLINICS
Sacramento County’s calendar of free flu shot clinics lists five dates in October and five in November during which residents can obtain influenza immunization at no charge. (Medicare members should bring their card and shot record.)
Oct 8: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Centennial United Methodist Church, 5401 Freeport Blvd.