The temperature might still be hitting the 80s and even 90s, but grocery stores, pharmacies and doctors’ offices are already offering the flu shot.
And, according to Kelley Smith, immunization coordinator with the Frederick County Health Department, even though the flu might be far from people’s minds, it is not too early to get the flu shot.
“You want to do it now,” Smith said. “Or any time. It’s never too late to vaccinate either.”
It takes about 7-10 days for the body to build the proper response to the flu vaccine, she said. So the next time a person visits their doctor or is offered a flu shot at a local pharmacy, they should do it, she said. Most insurance providers cover the vaccination.
There are two types of the flu included in standard flu vaccines, type A and type B. Then there are multiple strains, such as H1N1 or H3N2, which are both type A. Last year, Maryland saw mostly H1 flu cases, although toward the end, there were more cases of the H3 strain, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
Both trivalent, or three strains, and quadrivalent, or four strains, vaccinations will be offered for the 2019-2020 flu season, Smith said. The trivalent shot contains two A strains and one B, with the quadrivalent containing two A and two B strains.
There were more than 67,000 emergency department visits in Maryland related to influenza during the 2018-2019 flu season, which began roughly in October and ended in the middle of May.
Last year, the flu shot was not a 100 percent match, but it “didn’t do bad,” Smith said. The flu shot is usually created based on the flu strains seen in the southern hemisphere during its flu season. The flu season in Australia started earlier and was more severe than previous years.
Last year, the flu shot did well against the virus in the beginning of the year, but did poorer against the H3N2 strain that became worse during the latter part of the season.
Vaccine effectiveness varies each season, as well as among different age and risk groups, Maryland Department of Health spokeswoman Maureen Regan said in an email.
“It’s not possible to predict in advance what flu viruses will predominate,” she said.
Viruses evolve and change, even during a season, Smith said. That’s why those with the flu vaccine may have caught the flu.
“Viruses are so sneaky and they’re so smart that they can change, automatically,” she said. “They can start changing. They can shift, they can drift.”
But people are still better off getting the flu shot than not, Smith said, because it still offers protection against the strains included in the vaccine. And getting it helps protect those who cannot get it, like babies under the age of 6 months.
“Absolutely, you want to get a vaccine if you can and protect those around you, as well as yourself,” she said.
The Frederick County Health Department will not offer any flu vaccine clinics this year, Smith said. Most doctors are offering and the health department did not see the need to offer the clinic, she said. Children who are part of the vaccine program can receive it through the health department.