Vaccines urged as flu season looms: ‘Time is of the essence’

With flu season around the corner, public health officials urge everyone six months and older to get vaccinated — and soon.

The contagious respiratory illness last season led to more than 9,800 hospitalizations and four children’s deaths in Ohio, along with plenty of milder bouts of illness and missed work and school. It also was a long season, with U.S. flu activity elevated for 21 weeks and two different waves of flu.

However, it was still a milder season than the severe 2017-2018 season, when the flu led to more than 17,000 Ohio hospital stays.

“But even with it being a light flu season, last year there were just short of 10,000 hospitalizations due to influenza in Ohio, 9,865 to be exact,” said Dr. Mark Hurst, Ohio Department of Health medical director. “So even a mild season affects a lot of people.”

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Pharmacies, primary care providers, clinics and some workplaces are all options for getting the vaccine. Vaccines are also available by appointment at Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County by calling 225-5700.

Flu season begins each year as early as October, so public health officials said people should get the vaccine as soon as possible since it takes two weeks from the time a person gets vaccinated until antibodies develop to help protect their body.

“If you say ‘Well, I’m going to wait until the flu starts to start to appear in my area,’ you may well be too late,” Hurst said. “So now, time is of the essence.”

Some people are at particularly high risk for flu complications, such as those 65 years and older, young children, pregnant women, those with asthma, diabetes, cancer, or HIV/AIDS.

Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County, said that along with getting vaccinated, there are other important prevention steps like staying home if possible if you are sick, covering your mouth and nose when you cough, and good hand washing.

Tamiflu or its generic can be prescribed and taken within 48 hours of symptoms and helps make flu symptoms less severe.

It’s not possible to say in advance exactly how well the flu vaccine will work this season or to predict with certainty if a flu vaccine will match circulating flu viruses, according to the CDC.

It’s possible to get sick with flu even if you have been vaccinated (although you won’t know for sure unless you get a flu test), the CDC stated, but the flu vaccination has been shown in some studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a press event kicking off the CDC flu vaccination campaign that flu vaccination coverage estimates for 2018-2019 that showed 45 percent of Americans adults got a flu vaccine last season, while nearly 63 percent of children were vaccinated.

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Adults 18 to 49 years old were the least vaccinated at 35 percent.

Vaccination among kids across all ages, 6 months through 17 years, was almost 63 percent— an increase of almost 5 percentage points from 2017-2018 and about 3 percentage points from 2016-2017. Coverage was highest among the youngest kids, (6 months to 4 years), at 73 percent, while about 52 percent of teens were vaccinated last season.

Looking at a longer-term trend, flu vaccination coverage in children 6 months through 17 years has increased more than 10 percentage points since 2010–2011.

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