Get shot or get sick


As recently reported by the Arkansas News Bureau, seasonal flu clinics will be offered at public schools across the state starting Oct. 8 and continuing for several months. Seasonal flu vaccines are not required for children to attend school but are recommended. Consent forms will be sent home with children and must be signed and returned for children to receive the vaccine, the state Health Department said in a release.

The inauguration of this program is a signal for all of us to get our annual flu shot. While nobody likes going to get a shot, this is one that serves double duty: It protects both you and those with whom you come in contact.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, over the 31 flu seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During a typical flu season, 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older. The “flu season” in the U. S. can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

As the CDC website states, there are two main types of flu vaccine: The “flu shot” which is an inactivated vaccine (it contains a killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions; and a nasal-spray flu vaccine, a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that is given as a nasal spray (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine do not cause the flu. LAIV is approved for use in healthy people ages 2 through 49 who are not pregnant.

Of the injectable vaccines, there are three general types: A regular flu shot approved for people ages 6 months and older; A high-dose flu shot approved for people 65 and older; and an intradermal flu shot approved for people 18 to 64 years of age.

The CDC urges everyone who is at least 6 months of age to get a flu vaccine. If you’re in one of several special categories, the importance of getting the vaccine is magnified. These groups include people who are at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu (i.e. people with asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease, women who are pregnant, people 65 years and older).

With regard to the state’s school-based program, if a family has health insurance, the cost of the vaccination will be billed to the insurance company. If a family does not have insurance, the shot will be provided at no charge. Both the nasal mist form and the injectable form of the flu vaccine will be available at the clinics. The injectable form of vaccine will be given to children who are unable to take the mist form. Children will not be given the mist form if they are less than 2 years old, have asthma or have an underlying health condition that prevents them from taking it.

Flu shots are available at many pharmacy counters, general practitioners’ offices and county health clinics. To find your nearest provider you can log onto http://flushot.healthmap.org, enter your zip code and the website will provide a list of places where you can receive a flu shot. You can also call your local county health department or the Arkansas Department of Health (1-800-462-0599 or http://www.healthy.arkansas.gov).