What to do about flu? Get your annual vaccine soon


Special to The SUN

It’s official. Flu season starts Sunday and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urges everyone ages 6 months and older to get vaccinated, ideally before the end of October.

“We don’t know how serious flu season will be,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state communicable disease epidemiologist. “We do know that getting the flu can keep you out of work or school or put you in the hospital. Getting a flu shot every year can prevent that or lessen the severity if you do become ill.”

The past two flu seasons show us how unpredictable flu can be: In the 2017-2018 season, 4,650 Coloradans were hospitalized with flu, the most ever. That number dropped to 3,825 in 2018-2019, reflective of a slightly more moderate flu season.

Flu cases start to increase in October and typically peak in late December or early January before dropping off in the spring. Since it takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, October is the ideal time to get it.

“Every year, flu vaccines are updated to best match circulating flu viruses,” said Lynn Trefren, Immunization Branch manager at the state health department. “We recommend any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine, including the nasal spray vaccine, which is back this year. Remember, a yearly vaccine can keep you and others from getting sick, can make the illness milder if you do get sick and can keep you out of the hospital.”

To find flu vaccines at retail outlets, visit vaccinefinder.org. People who need help paying for flu vaccine can contact their local public health agency.

State health experts emphasize the role flu vaccine plays in protecting vulnerable people. Last season, there were 84 outbreaks associated with flu in long-term care facilities, and three children died.

“While healthy people normally recover from the flu, getting a shot keeps you from spreading the virus to people 65 and older, children under 5, pregnant women and people with certain chronic medical conditions,” Herlihy said. “And since babies under 6 months can’t get the vaccine, it’s up to us all to protect them.”

The state health department recommends:

• In addition to getting a flu vaccine every year, adults 65 and older should check whether they have had a pneumococcal vaccine. There are two flu vaccines specifically for persons 65 and older; people can talk to their doctors about which vaccine is best for them.

• Children who are younger than 9 years who are getting the flu vaccine for the first time and those under 9 who have only previously gotten one dose of the vaccine should get two doses of the vaccine. The first dose should be given as soon as vaccine becomes available. The second dose should be given at least 28 days after the first dose.

• Pregnant women have more serious complications if they get the flu and should be vaccinated before the end of October.