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Flu shots are recommended for everyone again this year, especially school-age children
BY JIM HALL
For the third consecutive year, state and federal health officials are advocating a "universal" vaccination strategy to combat the seasonal flu.
That means that everyone, 6 months and older, should get a flu shot, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"People should get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available," said Dr. Brooke Rossheim, director of the Rappahannock Area Health District. "There's no reason to wait."
The vaccine has been available in the Fredericksburg area for several weeks. A sign outside the Giant grocery in Fredericksburg encourages customers to stop by the pharmacy for their shots.
Clerks there and at local Walgreens, Walmart, Target and CVS stores said this week that they have plenty of vaccine, and that they're offering shots with no appointments necessary.
Health officials recommend vaccination as a way to avoid the complications that can result when one gets the flu. Each year in the U.S. the flu is responsible for 200,000 hospitalizations and 35,000 deaths, according to the CDC.
"That's a lot of people," said Dr. Bonita Wilson, a Fredericksburg allergist. "The way to reduce it is to vaccinate."
Wilson made a pitch for the flu shot in May at an asthma workshop for school nurses, sponsored by her practice group, Allergy Partners of Fredericksburg.
Wilson told the nurses that schools are like "giant petri dishes," where flu germs spread. Vaccinating children is critical to protecting those around them, she said.
"The young ones come home and spread it to their grandparents, spread it to their parents, spread it to their siblings," she said.
This year's vaccine is both similar and different than last year's.
This year, as in prior years, health officials have designed the shot to protect against the H1N1 virus. But this year the shot also will protect against two other viruses, Influenza A/Victoria (H3N2)-like and Influenza B/Wisconsin.
"They have to decide fairly early on what strains they believe are going to be out there circulating and what will provide the best coverage," Rossheim said.
Four types of vaccine are again approved for public use, though all four might not be available from vendors.
The standard injectable version, which contains an inactivated virus and is usually given in the upper arm.
The Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center will offer free flu shots at clinics this month and next.
Nurses will be giving shots at the Wednesday farmers market in the hospital parking lot on Sept. 19 and 26, from 3 to 7 p.m.
The hospital also will sponsor a drive-thru clinic on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 9 a.m. to noon.
More than 200 people received free flu shots last year at a similar drive-thru clinic at the hospital.
All of the hospital's clinics are for those 18 and older.