Organizations, pharmacies, and hospitals across Eastern Iowa are ready for this year's influenza season, and have already started to offer this year’s flu shot.
Dr. Clete Younger, a physician at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, said the season typically begins in October, but Iowans have seen outbreaks as early as September. That's why doctors are distributing the vaccine right now.
Health experts said companies that produce the vaccines have started making them readily available much quicker. This year, Younger noted the vaccines came in a couple weeks earlier than normal, but health experts said that early delivery is becoming a regular occurrence.
“Ever since H1N1 a couple years ago, they’ve been starting to give it out in August and early September, so we started giving it at our clinic,” said St. Luke’s physician Melissa Kahler.
Across the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates that manufacturers have distributed 72.6 million doses nationwide so far this flu season. The organization recommends everyone six months and older should get the flu shot. Younger and Kahler have been recommending vaccinations to all of their patients. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.
Doctors hear all of the excuses in the book as to why people don’t get their flu shots. The most common one is that patients claim they get sick right after they receive the vaccine.
"With the flu shot itself, it is actually a killed virus, so it doesn't even include the entire virus. So it would be impossible for the vaccine to cause the flu," Younger said. "What happens more often is we get the flu shot in September, October, November -- that's the time people get sick from things.”
This year's vaccine protects against three influenza viruses and is different from last year's vaccine.
"If there are new viruses in the vaccination, sometimes it can take up to a couple of weeks [to develop an immunity], which is why it's important to get the flu vaccine early because you want it to start working as soon as possible,” Dr. Younger said.
Doctors hope this year’s flu season is relatively mild, like last year.
"We had two years of vaccinating with the right flu strains in a row, and that was so effective at suppressing the flu that we had a significant drop in the number of cases," Younger said. "It really proved to us that if you hit the vaccination right, you can make an enormous difference in the incidence of the disease.”
Dr. Younger also said the mild winter helped keep the cases of the flu to a minimum.
Doctors know it seems early to get a flu shot, but they’re warning patients they need to be prepared for the entire season.“It should cover you until May, which is about the end of the flu season,” Kahler said.