ROCKINGHAM — The flu vaccine arrived early this year at the Richmond County Health Department — earlier than it has ever come in before, according to Health Director Tommy Jarrell.
“We need to find out from CDC if we can start giving them out,” Jarrell said. “And whether someone who has had the vaccine in the last 6 months, will their insurance pay for it if it’s been less than a year since they had it?”
Jarrell fielded questions about the flu shots during a Richmond County Health and Human Services Board Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday.
While Erin Burns of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza division couldn’t comment on health care coverage, she supplied plenty of information Wednesday about this year’s vaccine, when to get it and which strains of the flu it can prevent.
“Flu vaccine is produced by private manufacturers,” Burns said. “So the timing of vaccine availability depends on when production is completed. If everything goes well during production, shipments may begin as early as July or August and continue throughout September and October until all of the vaccine is distributed.”
Burns stressed that the CDC recommends people get vaccinated against the flu soon after vaccine becomes available, preferably by October. She said it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu. Doctors and nurses are encouraged to begin vaccinating their patients soon after the vaccine becomes available.
“Those children aged 6 months through 8 years who need two doses of vaccine should receive the first dose as soon as possible to allow time to get the second dose before the start of flu season,” Burns said. “The two doses should be given at least four weeks apart.”
This year’s flu vaccine was designed to protect against three flu viruses expected to be most common in the season ahead, according to the CDC. And each year, one or two of each kind of flu virus are used to produce the seasonal flu vaccines.
Vaccines are designed to protect against flu viruses that experts predict will be the most common during the upcoming season. Three kinds of flu viruses commonly circulate among people today: Influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses and influenza B viruses.
Board member Emma Ellerbe wondered if the vaccine would still be potent by the time flu season arrives in North Carolina.
“Is there an expiration date?” she asked.
“No, they are good until spring,” Jarrell said. “But after a while, the vaccine begins to wear off after the person has it. And they are including H1N1 in this year’s vaccine. We got 700 doses this year.”
Jarrell said that doctors’ offices and pharmacies would also have plenty of flu vaccine on hand.
For more information about getting a flu vaccination, call the health department at 910-997-8365.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-817-2673, or follow her on Twitter @MelonieFlomer.