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Don’t wait, get vaccinated now before flu season hits state

The best way to protect yourself against the seasonal flu is to get vaccinated, public health officials say.
The best way to protect yourself against the seasonal flu is to get vaccinated, public health officials say. The Bellingham Herald

Get your flu vaccine now, so your body has time to build up its defenses before the flu season strikes, health officials said.

And unlike last year’s, the current vaccine should more closely match the strains expected to circulate this season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Outbreaks can occur as soon as October and can last as long as May, although flu usually peaks between December and February, the CDC said.

But exactly when it could hit a region varies from year to year.

“The best thing is to be prepared by getting vaccinated before influenza shows up, remembering it takes about two weeks for a maximum response to the vaccine,” said Dr. Greg Stern, Whatcom County health officer.

“Once it’s available it’s generally time to get it,” Stern said of the annual vaccine.

The 2014-15 flu season had the highest hospitalization rate among seniors that the CDC had ever documented, and at least 145 children died from the flu.

Flu activity is low in the U.S. for now.

Everyone 6 months and older should get the vaccine, public health officials said.

There are two different vaccines. One protects against three viral strains. The other protects against four.

Which one should you get?

“People should get whatever vaccine is available and recommended by their clinician,” Stern said. “Theoretically, covering four strains is better than three, but we don’t know whether it will make a significant difference in disease and complication rates, and the CDC has not made a recommendation for one over the other.”

The CDC said this year’s vaccine is expected do a better job of protecting you. Last year’s vaccine was 23 percent effective, compared to the usual 50 to 60 percent.

“Influenza surveillance occurs worldwide, and a prediction has to be made about a year before the season in order to prepare the vaccine,” Stern explained.

“The dominant influenza last season was H3N2,” he said, adding that the flu season is more severe when those viruses are most common. “A new mutation emerged after the season started and the vaccine did not match the new mutation. It still worked against H1N1 and the B influenza viruses.”

The last flu season had the highest hospitalization rate among seniors that the CDC had ever documented, and at least 145 children died from the flu. It’s too soon to say whether this flu season will be as bad as the last one.

“Usually, severe seasons are followed by less severe ones, but that does not always happen,” Stern said.

Patients have been asking PeaceHealth for the vaccine, including at its new Same Day Care Clinic in Bellingham.

And while what’s in the store for this flu season isn’t yet known, one thing is clear. Doctors want adults and children to protect themselves through vaccination.

“It won’t work unless you get it,” said William Wakefield, a doctor at Same Day Care Clinic.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

Learn more

Additional information, including where to find flu vaccine in Whatcom County, is online at flu.gov.

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