Peter Hanney is a spokesman for the state Department of Health (HEALTH), so you would expect he’s been vaccinated for the flu. If anyone does, he knows the flu season came early this year and has hit hard. And he knows that, while a shot isn’t a guarantee you won’t get the flu, it is rated 65 percent effective and those who are vaccinated don’t get it as badly as those without it.
Hanney said he got his vaccination, but his father won’t.
“He won’t get it because the government told him to,” Hanney said Tuesday.
Hanney’s father isn’t alone.
According to the department information released last Friday, about 44 percent of the state has been vaccinated. Hanney says this puts the number close to the 427,000 who were vaccinated three years ago for H1N1. Vaccine for that strain of the flu was in demand and the department made a concerted effort with school-by-school clinics to immunize children considered at the greatest risk.
This year, there isn’t a question of vaccine shortage and the vaccine is a good match for the H3N2 strain that is most prevalent now.
Getting people immunized is the challenge, although Hanney is convinced once someone has the flu, they’ll never shy away from vaccination in the future.
“The one time you get the flu and your hair hurts, you really know,” he said. He explained just combing your hair could be painful when you have the flu.
Patricia Seltzer, RN, the city’s nurse, is seeing a lot of flu-like symptoms. So far, it doesn’t appear to have especially hit the senior population. She noted that absenteeism is high among city employees but wasn’t able to provide specifics.
In an effort to reach the uninsured and underinsured [those with high deductibles], Seltzer is providing free vaccinations every Friday during January at the Pilgrim Senior Center from 8:30 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 4 p.m. She can also arrange to administer the vaccine if those times are not convenient with a simple call to her office at 468-4103.
HEALTH is running two clinics on Jan. 23 at Toll Gate and Vets from 4 to 7 p.m. at both high schools. VNA Care of New England will hold clinics at its office, 51 Health Lane on the Kent Hospital campus, this Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon. Walk-ins can also get the vaccination between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.
Paula Foster, VNA flu program manager, asks people to bring health insurance information, but to come even if not insured.
“We’re not turning anyone away,” she said yesterday.
Most pharmacies, as well as CareWell urgent care at 535 Centerville Rd., also provide the shot for walk-ins. Costs can vary depending on health care insurance, unless the clinic is designated as free. CareWell charges $10 and does not ask for insurance information.
Last Friday, Seltzer vaccinated 38, including 10 between the ages of 19 and 40 who had never been vaccinated for the flu.
She asked why they hadn’t bothered until now.
“I’ve never gotten it [the flu], so I didn’t think I needed it,” was the common answer, she said.
The best excuse she’s heard came from a young woman who said, “No way, there are ‘nanobots’ in the vaccine to track people.”
Health Department data shows those 65 years old and older with the highest number of hospitalizations with the flu – 191. Second with 65 hospitalizations is the 25 to 49 years of age group. And with a total of 16 hospitalizations, the least of any group, are those between the ages of 6 months to 6 years old.
Foster said VNA has seen an increase in flu cases with the greatest jump since the beginning of the year.
“Hospitals are at capacity with an influx of flu patients,” she said. Foster said the best thing people can do is to get vaccinated.
“Vaccines can prevent hospitalization and death, particularly the elderly,” she said.
Acting School Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said attendance has fluctuated from school to school and that he has not seen any wholesale absenteeism because of the flu. He said the same has been true for teachers.
Seltzer said the city is using state supplied vaccine and there is no charge for administering the inoculation. That isn’t always the case. She said some places charge $20 to $40 to administer a shot, which was news to Hanney. He was of the impression that all outlets using state supplied vaccine were administering the shots at no cost.
“A lot of people think that wherever you go, it’s free, and it’s not,” said Seltzer.
Retailers, such as CVS and other pharmacies that get reimbursed by insurers, also purchase the vaccine.
Seltzer said some of those visiting her clinic last Friday said they would not have been able to afford the shot.
The Health Department is working with the Wellness Company to run its flu clinics. Under the arrangement, Hanney said, the state provides the vaccine and the Wellness Company does what it can to recover the cost of administering the vaccine from insurance companies. The state does not pay the Wellness Company, he said.
According to the HEALTH website, high-dose vaccine is available at some retail outlets and is approved for people 65 years old and older. The department “does not supply high-dose vaccine due to uncertainty about its efficacy.”
What CDC recommends
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses for everyone 6 months of age and older. According to the CDC, children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated instead.
Other preventive measures recommended by CDC are:
Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
Further, the CDC says if you get the flu, antiviral drugs can treat your illness. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) and are not available over-the-counter.
Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has high-risk health or is very sick from the flu. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking this drug.
Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.