BRISTOL – The flu season is just getting going and there are plenty of vaccine shots still available.
“We’ve been offering it since October and we still have vaccines,” said Marco Palmeri, director of health for the Bristol-Burlington Health District. “We’ve done all the school staff in all our public schools here in Bristol, and we’ve offered it to school age kids and preschool kids and I think we’ve found that just about everyone that wanted it has received it.”
“We are more than willing to vaccinate anyone who calls us, individuals or groups, here or anywhere else; they need to be vaccinated. Public health is sometimes considered a department that just reacts to disasters but we actually spend most of our time doing prevention,” he said.
The vaccine is also readily available at any pharmacy, he added.
Palmeri took over in his current position last July, after working at the Plainville-Southington Regional Health District. “This is my first flu season here so I’ve already increased the number of flu vaccinations by several hundred from the previous administration,” he said.
Last year’s flu season was considered severe and the forecast is this one won’t be as bad. Palmeri said forecasts are partly based on what happened in parts of the world, such as Australia, that are just ending their flu season.
However, there is really no way to know what the season will be like until it happens, he said. “The flu is one of those things where we often are wrong with our predictions. The height of the flu season is January to February, that’s when statistically we have the most cases, so we’re just at the beginning now.”
“As a public health official you should always be prepared for the worst, and always be ready to address the worst case scenario. You can’t just go to the grocery store to buy flu vaccine, you have to order it and it takes several weeks, sometimes several months, and if there’s a shortage you’re really at a disadvantage,” he said.
Many people have an aversion to getting a flu shot, but Palmeri notes that the vaccine has been around a long time and has been proven to be very safe.
“Of course there are plenty of people who can’t get it due to a medical or other contraindication, but typically what I hear is ‘I’ve never had the flu, never had the shot. Why bother getting it now?’”
Getting the flu is a matter of chance, he said. “There’s always that one person that could be a carrier and you could be that unlucky person that has close contact with that person.”
“Or I’ve heard ‘the flu shot can give you the flu,’” he continued.
Palmer said people may sometimes get the flu a day or two after they get the shot, but it is not because of the shot. “It’s because they were exposed to the flu and it takes several days, even weeks, before the flu vaccine provides 100 percent efficacy. So it’s just bad timing, it has nothing to do with the flu shot.”
“Our best advice is to consult with your primary care provider and make a decision based on a decision with them,” he said. “We offer the vaccination to as many as are willing to receive it but we aren’t your primary care provider so we really can’t advise as to what your individual needs are.”
The Centers for Disease Control’s weekly influenza summary map shows that as of Nov. 24 flu activity in Connecticut is regional, and began to increase more rapidly that week.
“Regional” is defined as “outbreaks of influenza or increases in ILI [influenza-like illness] and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least two but less than half the regions of the state with recent laboratory evidence of influenza in those regions.” It is considered one step below Widespread.
The map also shows the illness as regional in Massachusetts. Flu activity in New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are considered “local” - one step below “regional,” while Rhode Island and Vermont show only sporadic flu activity so far.
For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu.
According to the Connecticut Department of Health, influenza activity has been slowly increasing in Connecticut since the end of August.
Since Aug. 26, a total of 55 patients with laboratory-confirmed influenza were reported hospitalized in Connecticut through Nov. 24. One flu-associated death in the state has been reported, in an individual greater than 65 years of age.
A total of 151 influenza positive laboratory tests have been reported as of Nov. 24: 44 in Hartford County, 37 in New Haven County, 41 in Fairfield County, 10 in Litchfield County, five in New London County, six in Windham County, six in Middlesex County, and two in Tolland County.
For more information, visit https://portal.ct.gov/DPH/Immunizations/Seasonal-Influenza.
For more information on the Bristol-Burlington Health District, call 860-584-7682 or visit http://bbhd.org.
The Town of Plymouth is part of the Torrington Area Health District. For more information about the availability of flu vaccines there, call 860-489-0436 or visit http://www.tahd.org/.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.