Never too late for a flu shot

Never too late for a flu shot

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
1/3/2019


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Although the flu season began a few months back, it’s never too late to get a flu shot. This seems to be the consensus among medical professionals, including those across Long Island and throughout New York State. 

Melody Anne Butler, an infection preventionist for Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, said she cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated. 

“While the holidays may be over, it is not too late to get vaccinated because the flu season can last into the spring,” said Butler, who is also the founding executive director of Nurses Who Vaccinate, an online portal that provides free information for those looking to research vaccines, stay up to date on data and prevent illness. 

“While the flu shot may not be 100 percent effective at preventing the virus, research has shown that it decreases the severity and length of illness,” she added. “For some, that can be life or death.”

As of Dec. 31, 2018, 41 people have been admitted to Good Samaritan for the flu since the season began, with most being under 4 years old or over 50 years old. Most admissions have also occurred within the last three weeks. 

The influenza level was categorized as geographically widespread during the week ending on Dec. 22, 2018, according to the New York State Department of Health. This marked the second week that widespread activity has been reported. 

There were 2,117 laboratory-confirmed influenza reports, a 72 percent increase over the week before, according to a weekly report prepared by NYS regarding influenza. Of the 1,935 specimens submitted by the World Health Organization and National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System clinical laboratories, 84 (4.34 percent) were positive. Seventy-nine were influenza A and five were influenza B. 

Three hundred and sixty-three patients were hospitalized across the state with laboratory-confirmed influenza that week, a 41 percent increase from the week before. As of last week, there were over 3,200 laboratory-confirmed cases across the state, according to reports. More than 900 were also hospitalized. 

There were no influenza-related pediatric deaths in the state’s weekly report. One child did, however, die from the flu in New York City near the end of October. No child under 6 months old should get the flu shot, numerous sources say. 

While flu deaths in children are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu deaths are not easily identified on a national scale, according to officials. In order to monitor influenza-related deaths in all age groups, the CDC tracks pneumonia and influenza-attributed deaths through the National Center for Health Statistics’ mortality reporting system. 

Officials also noted that not everyone who contracts influenza seeks medical assistance, and not everyone who seeks medical assistance receives testing for the flu. 

An estimated 80,000 people, including 200 children, died nationwide during the 2017-2018 flu season, according to the CDC. This marked the highest flu death toll in 40 years. 

While the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, flu vaccination is still the best way to prevent the flu and its potentially dangerous complications, said Grace Kelly-McGovern, a spokesperson for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Vaccinations, they said, also prevent millions of flu illnesses and related doctors’ visits, along with tens of thousands of hospitalizations. 

Additionally, for those who do contract influenza even if they have been vaccinated, the flu vaccine can reduce the severity of the illness, officials added. 

The overall vaccine effectiveness of the 2017-2018 flu vaccine against both influenza A and B viruses was estimated to be between 40 percent, according to the CDC. This means the flu vaccine reduced a person’s overall risk of having to seek medical care at a doctor’s office for flu illness by 40 percent. 

Protection by virus type and subtype was 25 percent against A (H3N2), 65 percent against A (H1N1) and 49 percent against influenza B virus, officials added. 

How well the flu vaccine works or its ability to prevent flu illness can vary from season to season, said Kelly-McGovern. The vaccine’s effectiveness also depends on who is being vaccinated. At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect someone from the illness. 

The first is the characteristics of the person being vaccinated, such as their age and health. The second is the similarity or “match” between the flu virus the vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community. 

County officials said it’s too early to determine how well the 2018-2019 vaccine is working.