Health organizations are urging people to get their flu shot soon to protect themselves during the upcoming influenza season.
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They advise that, despite doubts surrounding the effectiveness of flu jabs, not getting vaccinated soon is a mistake.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between October 1st, 2018, and May 4th, 2019, the flu virus between 37.4 million and 42.9 million people to get sick. Of those, 17.3 million to 201 million needed to attend medical centers, 531,000 to 647,000 required hospitalization, and 36,400 to 61,200 people died.
The medical director of Buncombe County in North Carolina, Jennifer Mullendore, says this is considered on par with a typical flu season.
While some people are skeptical about the effectiveness of flu shots, Mullendore says the bottom line is that flu vaccines prevent millions of flu illnesses, tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths: "Getting vaccinated every year is the best way to prevent the flu. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, medical visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations."
Mullendore urges parents to consider that vaccination has been shown to reduce children’s risk of dying from the illness significantly, and that data suggests that even if a vaccinated individual becomes sick with the flu, the illness they suffer is still milder than if they had not been vaccinated.
Several vaccines are available, with differences between the various types, including the manufacturer, the production method, how many flu strains they protect against, and how they are administered.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine during the 2019 to 2020 flu season. The organization has no preference for any type of flu vaccine over another.
What about states where laws make it difficult for children to get a flu jab?
When an adult wants to be vaccinated, they can either visit their doctor or go to a pharmacy, but in most states, laws prevent parents from being able to have children vaccinated in a pharmacy.
Public health authorities say that currently, 40% of children are not getting vaccinated, which is something they are keen to change because it costs children's lives.
Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, Irwin Redlener, says there should be no barrier whatsoever to parents getting their children a flu jab: "It's what we'd call a no-brainer.”
Another reason children should be vaccinated is that with their less than ideal hygiene, they can easily spread the flu to others.
Pharmacies are an appealing option for many busy parents; they are open weekends and evenings, and there is no need to make an appointment.
However, in three states - Florida, Connecticut, and Vermont - laws prevent children from being vaccinated in pharmacies, and in 30 states, vaccination is restricted based on a child’s age.
It is not clear why so many states have placed restrictions on children getting vaccinated in pharmacies. According to a position paper on flu prevention by The American Academy of Pediatrics, the group is not opposed to children being vaccinated in pharmacies.
Antony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says: "We're relinquishing our responsibilities as a society if we don't really aggressively try to get as many children vaccinated with the flu vaccine as possible…I just want to see more children get vaccinated. I don't really care how you do it."
Ben Watson, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in the Georgia Legislature, says the CDC and the National Institutes of Health have not pushed the issue. “It hasn't risen to our attention. If it's not a squeaky wheel, I hate to say it, then it doesn't get addressed."
Fauci agrees: "I think when you keep bringing attention to it, somebody's going to wake up and say, 'OK, here's what we need to do.'"
Chief operating officer of Families Fighting Flu, Serese Marotta, says it is just common sense that states should allow children of all ages to get vaccinated in pharmacies.
Common sense tells us that if we make it easier for people to go get a vaccine, then at the end of the day we're moving in the right direction.”
Serese Marotta, Chied operating officer of Families Fighting Flu
What is the situation in the UK?
The NHS and Public Health England are encouraging parents to ensure two-to-three-year-old children are vaccinated against the flu.
Vaccination is considered the best way to protect children and becomes available every year on the NHS for both children and adults.
However, at the beginning of November, some schools were advised to reschedule vaccination plans following an announcement from AstraZeneca that it needed to “repeat some tests” of the nasal spray routinely used to treat children. These delays have now been resolved, and primary school clinic sessions are being rescheduled for as soon as possible.
Public health experts are advising parents of children in high-risk groups (such as those with asthma or diabetes) to contact their doctors if the school clinic session has been delayed, to ensure they are protected early.
Other high-risk individuals, such as those aged 65 or over, children and adults with underlying medical conditions and pregnant women are also being advised to get vaccinated within the next few weeks before the flu starts to spread.
Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, says: “Influenza can be a very unpleasant illness, and while it is not generally a serious illness for most people, for those in at-risk groups, such as young children, elderly people, those with long-term conditions and pregnant women, flu has the potential to trigger life-threatening complications.”
The best defense against the flu is to be vaccinated, and we strongly urge all patients in at-risk groups to get vaccinated and for parents to ensure their young children receive their vaccine as soon as possible.”
Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs