Is it too late to get the flu vaccine?
By: Dr. Alan Smith--Senior Medical Director of Prescription Drug Plans, Pharmacy and Health Services, WellCare Health Plans, Inc.
The flu virus is transmitted year-round, but during cooler months, flu cases tend to increase. Regularly occurring periods when flu outbreaks are common are called flu seasons. In the United States, flu season runs from October through May.
During each annual flu season, campaigns are launched to convince as many people as possible to get the seasonal flu vaccine, which is usually at the beginning of September. By the middle to end of November, seasonal flu vaccine reminders are less prevalent than they were in September and October, but does that mean that it is too late to get vaccinated?
Unless your doctor advises against it, it is never too late to get the seasonal flu vaccine. The timing and development of flu outbreaks vary each year. Outbreaks can occur as early as September and October, and usually peak in January and February, but they can also run as late as March, April and May. According to research reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the month with the highest percentage of flu cases is February (50 percent of annual reported cases), followed by January (20 percent), then March and December (15 percent).
On average, it takes approximately two weeks after flu vaccination for antibodies to build up and protect against a flu virus infection; this timeframe varies by person and depends on a person’s immune system. People with weak immune systems may need more time to build antibodies that protect them from flu viruses. Also, children under the age of nine may need two vaccinations, which are scheduled four or more weeks apart. This means it can take up to a month and a half before they achieve immunity.
Once symptoms develop, they can last up to two weeks or longer, depending on a person’s health and his or her ability to fight the infection. Flu-related symptoms may be annoying or absolutely painful, and flu-related complications result in thousands of deaths each year. If you have not received a seasonal flu vaccine yet this year, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about getting one. It is not too late.
About the Author: Dr. Alan Smith is WellCare Health Plans Inc.'s senior medical director of Prescription Drug Plans, Pharmacy and Health Services. He is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. For more information about WellCare Health Plans, Inc., visit www.WellCare.com.
Media Contact: Amy Knapp
WellCare Health Plans, Inc. provides managed care services targeted to government-sponsored health care programs, focusing on Medicaid and Medicare. Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, WellCare offers a variety of health plans for families, children, and the aged, blind, and disabled, as well as prescription drug plans. The Company served approximately 2.2 million members nationwide as of September 30, 2010. For more information about WellCare, please visit the Company's website at http://www.wellcare.com.