Flu shots now recommended for everyone over 6 months old

Posted: 10/13/2010

From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 

As the flu season approaches, public health officials are recommending that everyone over six months of age get a flu shot this year.

This is the first time that the flu vaccine has been recommended for all adults, said Diane Watson, director of Georgia's office of immunization.

Children and the elderly have long been urged to get a flu vaccine, since getting the flu is especially risky for those groups. And officials have gradually expanded the list of non-elderly adults who should get the shot to include anyone coming into contact with kids or older people. But this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling on everybody to roll up their sleeves and get the shot.

"We have long recognized that vaccination is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself from getting the flu," said Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman.

Georgians lag slightly behind the nation when it comes to embracing flu shots. Among those 65 and over, a crucial group for protection, an estimated 66.6 percent of Georgians got the vaccine last year, compared with 70.1 percent of elderly people nationally, according to the Georgia Department of Community Health.

The flu vaccine this year will protect people from three types of flu, including the H1N1 flu that last year created a flu epidemic.

The strains included in last year's flu vaccine had already been identified by the time H1N1 appeared in April. A second vaccine just for H1N1 was manufactured and administered last fall.

It can be difficult to predict which strains of the flu will do the most harm each year, but public health officials say that the flu activity observed so far suggests this year's vaccine should be effective.

"It appears we have a really good match as far as what's in the vaccine and what we expect to circulate," said Skinner, of the CDC. "That is encouraging news and all the more reason people should go out and get a vaccine."

Public health officials expect the impact of H1N1 to be less intense this year because many people are now resistant to it and those who are vaccinated will be protected. "While flu is unpredictable, it's unlikely it's going to return with a vengeance the way it did last year," Skinner said.

People facing an especially high risk of serious complications from the flu include young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart and lung diseases or diabetes.

Public health officials are also strongly urging people who work in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings to get the vaccine.

"You don't want health care workers infecting sick people, and we need the health care workers at work," said Watson, Georgia's immunization chief.

Elderly people should consider getting a new high-dose flu shot available for the first time this year. The stronger version of the flu shot might be more effective for people over 65, whose immune systems tend to have weakened with age.

Watson, Georgia's immunization chief, said she wasn't sure how widely available the high-dose vaccine would be. "What the elderly populations should do is discuss with their private provider what is recommended for them," she said.

Flu shots are now widely available at county health departments, doctors' offices, pharmacies, clinics and at many workplaces. The vaccines are the same no matter where they are administered. Health departments often offer the best deals on flu shots.

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