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Public health officials work toward achieving herd immunity against influenza

The Daily Tribune News - 10/21/2017

Striving for at least 80 percent of the community to obtain a flu shot, Georgia Department of Public Health officials are underscoring the importance of the seasonal vaccination.

"The Bartow County Health Department has already seen a good many people from our community come in to receive a flu shot," said Cathy Green, nurse manager for the Bartow County Health Department. "However, it is not too late to get your flu shot, and we still have plenty of vaccine available. We especially encourage those 65 years and older to come in and request the high-dose flu vaccine for the best protection against this year's flu.

"The flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. ... We encourage people to get their flu shots as soon as the vaccine becomes available in their community. It takes about two weeks for the shot to take effect, and the protection it affords will generally last throughout the flu season, even if it extends into the following spring."

While some groups are considered more at-risk for flu complications than others, individuals 6 months and older are urged to receive the vaccination.

According to a news release from the Georgia DPH's Northwest Health District, "Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza, including: children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years; adults 65 years of age and older; pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; and people who have medical conditions, including asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, etc. It is especially important to get the flu vaccine if you, someone you live with, or someone you care for is at high risk of complications from flu.

"It's also recommended that pregnant women get a flu vaccine during any trimester of their pregnancy. There's added value to the seasonal flu vaccine for pregnant women, too. Not only does it protect them against the flu, it also protects their newborn infants, for up to the first few months of life at least, at a time when infants are too young to receive the vaccine themselves."

Generally free for insured patients, Green said flu vaccine charges for the uninsured are "$35 for the quadrivalent flu shot and $55 for the high-dose vaccine" for individuals 65 and older.

"While flu vaccine effectiveness can vary from season to season, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 percent and 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine" said Logan Boss, public information officer for Georgia DPH's Northwest Health District, which includes Bartow. "... The Bartow County Health Department and some other flu-vaccine providers in the community are offering the quadrivalent flu vaccine that provides broader protection against circulating flu viruses and is approved for people 6 months and older and the Fluzone high-dose vaccine for adults 65 and older who are at greater risk of severe illness from influenza. The quadrivalent flu vaccine is designed to protect against four different flu viruses: two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses, including the H3N2 virus that was prevalent in the U.S. last year and has dominated in the Southern Hemisphere during its flu season this year.

"The Fluzone high-dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen - the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibody - contained in regular flu shots. The additional antigen is intended to create a stronger immune response - more antibody - in the person getting the vaccine. A higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is supposed to give older people with less hardy immune systems a better immune response, and therefore, better protection against flu."

Echoing Boss' comments, Green stressed the need for more individuals to receive the flu vaccine.

"Another important reason to get a flu shot is because it will keep other people from getting the flu," she said. "Flu season is mostly a hazard for just a few categories of people: the elderly, the immunocompromised, the pregnant and the very young. In other words, people for whom the consequences are huge. Babies under 6 months and severely immunocompromised people - think those on chemotherapy or with chronic immune diseases - simply can't get the shot. These are the people for whom you're getting the flu vaccine.

"If we can get 80 [to] 90 percent of people vaccinated against flu, we create what's called herd immunity, the point at which a virus, in this case influenza virus, just can't spread well. The beauty of herd immunity is that once you get above a certain threshold, it matters a lot less that the very old and very young don't have protection. Unfortunately, in 2016, only 47 percent of the U.S. population got a flu shot, so we're a long way from achieving herd immunity against influenza."

For more information about scheduling an appointment for a flu vaccine, contact the Bartow County Health Department - located at 100 Zena Drive in Cartersville - at 770-382-1920.


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