Officials say it's never too early for flu shot vaccine
By KALEY CONNER
With the official start of fall Sunday, health officials nationally and locally are encouraging people to get ahead of the expected annual "flu season."
This year's influenza vaccine already is available at several Hays agencies and businesses. The Ellis County Health Department has been offering doses of the standard immunization since early this month, administrator Butch Schlyer said.
"We're seeing a lot of flu vaccine given in September now," he said. "There are a lot of doses available, so they start early. Let's get people done."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously recommended offering the vaccine beginning in October. During the past few years, however, the government has shipped the vaccine out as early as August, and health officials are encouraged to begin administering the doses as soon as possible, Schlyer said.
While the flu season usually seems to peak in January, immunizing early helps reduce the risk of catching a virus early on, said Jeremy Snyder, a pharmacist at Walgreens in Hays.
"A lot of people worry about wanting to wait until October or whatever, which is fine," he said. "But sometimes the flu season starts earlier, depending on what kind of weather we have."
It takes approximately two weeks after the vaccination for the body to develop antibodies, providing protection against the flu.
Walgreens, located at 27th and Vine, also has been offering flu shots this month. At least 100 already have been given, Snyder said. The cost is $31.99 for a standard vaccine, and customers can walk in during business hours for a flu shot.
The standard vaccine also is available on a walk-in basis at the county health office, 601 Main, for a cost of $20. Some insurance policies, such as Medicare and Medicaid, can be billed for the vaccine.
In addition to the standard vaccine, which offers protection against three strains of flu virus, some locations are offering a nasal mist vaccine and a new kind of flu shot that consists of four virus strains for additional protection.
"That came out pretty late in the season this year," Schlyer said, noting the county health office offers only the standard vaccine. "As we look toward next year, that probably will become the standard."
Another new option this year is the Flucelvax vaccine. Viruses in the cell-based vaccine were grown in animal cells instead of chicken eggs. The new vaccine could be an option for people who are allergic to eggs, Snyder said. Another new option this year is a preservative-free flu shot, he said.
Walgreens pharmacists can administer the vaccine to customers who are at least 7 years old. The county health department can treat patients as young as 6 months old.
Dillons pharmacy also offers flu shots, and the vaccine can be obtained through medical clinics. Hays Medical Center is planning its annual drive-thru flu shot event later this fall.