Here comes influenza season; new vaccine and new recommendations

This year, the CDC has expanded its influenza vaccination recommendations to include all children and teens up to their 19th birthday; flu clinics scheduled on the islands

“It’s a fact that the influenza vaccine saves lives by not only helping to prevent the flu but also by preventing the serious complications that sometimes result from infections with influenza,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year, the CDC has expanded its influenza vaccination recommendations to include all children and teens up to their 19th birthday.

Children are usually the first age group to get influenza each year; outbreaks usually begin in children and then move on to the community at large. While adults are usually contagious for at least one day before their symptoms appear, and for five to seven days after, children can remain contagious with influenza for twice as long, making them particularly effective spreaders of the illness, the CDC reports.

To be fully immunized against influenza, children younger than 9, who are being vaccinated for the first time, need two doses their first year, at least one month apart. Otherwise, only one dose per year is needed to provide full protection, according to the CDC.

Last year, there were 86 deaths in children nationwide and half of those deaths were in the 5- to 18-year-old age group. This is a tragedy because influenza vaccine is safe and effective for children 6 months and older, the CDC reports.

Aside from catastrophic events, influenza significantly impacts school absenteeism, increases antibiotic use, and leads to more medical care visits, and parental work loss. October and November are excellent times to begin vaccinating children and high-risk adults, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccine for every American 50 years and older. Additionally, anyone 19 years or older who lives with or comes in close contact with people who are at risk for the flu should consider protecting themselves with the influenza vaccine. This way, they do not to pass this highly contagious illness on to others with chronic medical problems or a compromised immune system that may not be able to fight off the flu or are vulnerable to complications of the flu. This group includes caregivers of children younger than 6 months as well as seniors.

Only 72 percent of adults older than 65 received an influenza vaccine last year, the CDC reports. As people age, they have a harder time fighting off illnesses as easily as younger adults without chronic medical problems. Vaccine helps people either avoid infection or reduce the severity of the infection. Medicare pays for influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations to its beneficiaries.

This year, the flu vaccine has been re-formulated to include the influenza viruses currently circulating in the world. The good news is that the supply is plentiful. Vaccine is arriving at all provider offices and clinics and will be available at flu clinics around the county.

The San Juan County Health Department recommends islanders get an influenza vaccine to protect themselves, their loved ones and the community.

Call the San Juan County Health Department, 378-4474.

Drive-thru flu clinic on Lopez Island Oct. 18
As part of its emergency preparedness planning, the San Juan County Health and Community Services Department will conduct a drive-thru vaccination clinic at Lopez School on Oct. 18, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Flu vaccine will be available for children 6 months to 18 years and adults 19 years of age and older. Cost: $15 for children and $28 for adults. Insurance billing can be done for Medicare Part B and Medicaid for those with current insurance cards.

Children 18 years and younger and adults who wish to get other vaccines in addition to influenza will be directed to park their vehicles and walk inside the building. An immunization station will be set up inside where adult vaccines for tetanus-diphtheria, tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis and pneumococcal disease will also be available.

Schedule of walk-in influenza clinics
— Oct. 29, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Shaw Island Community Building.
— Nov. 4, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Orcas Island Senior Center in Eastsound.
— Nov. 5, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mullis Community Senior Center, Friday Harbor.

The clinic for Waldron Island is yet to be scheduled.

For more influenza vaccine opportunities through local Public Health nurse offices, call 378-4474. Influenza vaccine for children is available from local health care providers and the Health Department.