Hit flu with your best shot

Local health officials urge residents to get protection now against illness

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter


photoLynnette Pickup, a nurse manager at Sea Mar Community Health Center, displays a new flu vaccine offered at the Vancouver clinic Friday. The quadrivalent vaccine protects against two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B. Traditional flu vaccines protect against three flu strains.

(/The Columbian)

If you go

• What: For one day, Sea Mar Community Health Center will waive its administration fee and provide free and low-cost flu vaccines to Clark County residents.

• When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 11.

• Where: Sea Mar Community Health Center, 7410 Delaware Lane, Vancouver.

• Cost: Free for children 2 to 18 years; $9.65 for adults.

The warm sunshine has been replaced with cloudy skies and rain. Kids' care-free days are now school-filled days. Those changes don't only mark the end of summer, but also the beginning of flu season.

Stop the spread

In addition to getting flu shots, health officials recommend these everyday practices to reduce the chance of catching or spreading the flu:

• If you are sick with flulike illness, stay home and limit contact with others.

• Cough or sneeze into your arm or cover your nose and mouth with a tissue.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Avoid close contact with sick people.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

And every new flu season prompts the same old advice from health care providers: Get a flu shot.

Vaccines are now available at medical clinics and pharmacies across Clark County. And as doctors and nurses gear up for immunization clinics, health officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated now — not later.

"Some people delay getting a flu shot in the mistaken belief that vaccine effectiveness will wear off before winter, when flu season typically ramps up," said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer. "Actually, you are better off getting the vaccine as soon as it's available because flu season starts early some years."

Did you know?

• Last year, only about 47 percent of Washington residents got a flu shot, according to the Washington Department of Health. The state’s goal is to have an 80 percent immunization rate by 2020.

"The sooner you're vaccinated, the sooner you're protected. And you'll stay protected throughout the flu season," he added.

The flu can flare up anytime, but the season typically runs from October through May. Last year in Clark County, the flu begin circulating in mid-October. Flu activity picked up in January and peaked in February, said Catherine Kroll, vaccination program manager for Clark County Public Health.

"It was about on par with what we would expect for a flu season," she said.

Health officials recommend everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine. It's especially important that people at greatest risk of complications — young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with asthma, diabetes, heart disease and long-term health conditions — get vaccinated, according to health officials.

Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration work together to develop a vaccine that protects against three strains of the disease predicted to circulate the most. Typically, the vaccine protects against two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B.

This year, however, a new vaccine that protects against four strains of influenza — two A strains and two B strains — will be available in the U.S. The new quadrivalent vaccine will be available in Clark County in limited quantities.

"If it's available, then absolutely, we would love to see people get that," Kroll said.

However, Kroll said people should not delay getting immunized to search for a quadrivalent vaccine. The four-strain vaccine will be more widely available next year, she said.

"Next year there will be plenty of quadrivalent," Kroll said. "We expect that will be the standard. The new standard will be four instead of three strains."

The quadrivalent vaccine is available as an injection and a nasal mist. Since the nasal mist uses live viruses, it's only an option for people ages 2 to 49 and who are healthy and not pregnant.

The standard trivalent vaccine is also available as an injection and a nasal mist. In addition, the immunization comes in an egg-free version for those with allergies and a vaccine that uses a smaller needle than the typical flu shot.

Anyone younger than 19 can get a flu vaccine for free through the state's Vaccines for Children program. Kids can get the vaccine from their regular health care provider. Uninsured adults in Clark County can make an appointment for a low-cost flu shot at Sea Mar Community Health Centers by calling 360-852-9070.