After a rough 2014-2015 flu season, Georgia health professionals are hopeful the latest vaccine is better equipped to handle this season’s flu strains.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, early results suggest this season’s vaccines will be able to combat the flu. Last season saw an increase in people catching the virus, in part because one of the vaccine components was genetically different than the actual flu strain, the CDC said.
In Georgia, there were 28 influenza-related deaths during the season that began last October and ended in May, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The CDC categorized last season as severe for people 65 and older, because they were hospitalized with flu-related problems at the highest rate since those records started being kept in 2005.
The effectiveness of this year’s vaccine is still unknown, but so far laboratory analysis suggests that “the majority of viruses circulating worldwide in the past few months are similar to 2015–16 vaccine viruses,” the CDC wrote in a report.
Since scientists create the vaccine months in advance of flu season, a vaccine’s effectiveness can vary. It is critical that people still get their shots each year, said Nancy White, administrator of the Macon-Bibb County Health Department.
According to a study that tracked U.S. flu-associated deaths from 1977 to 2006, the lowest number of deaths -- about 3,000 -- came in the 1986-1987 season. The numbers hit a high in the 2003-2004 season when about 49,000 people died of the flu, according to the CDC.
“The most important step anyone can take to prevent getting the flu is getting a flu shot,” White said. “The American public has become sort of immune to (the need for a shot), because it happens every year and we don’t take it as seriously as we should. Even if you do get the flu, the flu shot can protect you from having as severe a case.” There are three virus strains that vaccines were made for this season, said Alyson Stuckart, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health’s North Central Health District.
“We know that every year that the strains change,” she said.
Stuckart also said it’s too early to tell how good the vaccine is this year.
“It’ll take more time to monitor and determine (its effectiveness),” she said.
At the Macon-Bibb County Health Department, people can get flu shots without having an appointment Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
“It’s especially important for pregnant women and the elderly, whose immune systems are not quite as strong,” White said.
The CDC estimates that in recent years 50 percent to 70 percent of all flu-related hospitalizations are people 65 and older. Those in that age range should get a high dosage flu shot, White said.
“If they don’t come to us, they should ask whatever provider they go to for that high dose,” she said.
Because a flu shot is a preventative health measure, most insurance plans will cover the costs, White said.
To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter @stan_telegraph.