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Flu shot

Homa Bash/MEDILL

Pharmacist prepares to give patient a flu shot.

Flu shot season underway; consumers have more options than ever

by Homa Bash
Oct 10, 2013

Homa Bash/MEDILL

A chill is in the air and, along with it, the peak of flu shot season, which comes with more vaccination options this year than ever before.

Amita Shah, a pharmacist at a Walgreens at Diversey and Halsted, said the illness can rear its ugly head year-round but ramps up as fall and winter roll around.

She said the common belief people share about getting the flu from the flu shot is just a myth. "But we still have a hard time convincing people" to get the shot, she said, laughing. "Some people just really don't want to get it."

People like Chicago resident Mitch Hager, 64.

Hager, who is retired, has stood staunchly against getting the yearly sting his entire life. "My ex-girlfriend would always get a shot," he said, "and she would always get sick anyway. I've never gotten the shot. Sometimes I get the flu and I'm over it."

Tracy Jennings, 43, who was waiting for a bus near Millennium Park, has given the shot a shot, but said it made him sick for days. "I'm done with it, I wouldn't take another flu shot," he said. "I've taken them for years and they have never helped."

Then there are people like Amelia Pare, a plastic surgeon from Pittsburgh who was playing catch with her 7-year-old son, Liam, in the park while in town to visit her niece. She said everyone in her family receives the vaccine every year, especially because she is in contact with sick patients. "I don't want to get sick. No one wants to get sick. And this is the best way to prevent it," she said.

Shah said Walgreens usually begins receiving its shot shipments and giving the vaccines in late August and early September, although flu season typically peaks around January.

Shah administers an average of about 10 shots in-store each day, but said the weekly flu shot clinics the pharmacy manager sets up can see up to five times that many people.

Walgreens' shot stock this year, along with that of many healthcare professionals and providers, has several new types of vaccines. It boasts a quadrivalent injection that offers added protection against a fourth strain of influenza, a nasal spray, a high-dose option for people over the age of 65 and a vaccine made specifically for those who suffer from an egg allergy. Most of the vaccines contain a small amount of egg that could pose a problem for those who are highly allergic, Shah said. “There's a little something for everyone."

The one option they are not carrying this year, however, is the intradermal vaccine Fluzone.

The vaccine, which was first made available during the 2011-2012 flu season, is injected into the skin rather than the muscle. The needle used is 90 percent smaller than the needles used for the traditional flu shot, according to the CDC.

"We had it last year and I'm not sure if that's why we don't have it this year, but people got a pretty bad skin reaction, just from my experience," Shah explained.

The CDC said studies show that common side effects include redness, swelling, toughness, pain and itching at the site of the inoculation. These side effects are shown to be more common with the intradermal vaccine but pose no heightened risk.

From September 2012 to May 2013 there were 183 ICU hospitalizations for the flu reported in Chicago, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The CDC reports that flu-related deaths can range from 3,000 to 49,000 people annually. Exact numbers, however, are not available because states are not required to report flu deaths. One reason is that flu is often a factor in deaths of people with other illnesses, such as pneumonia or congestive heart failure.

Shah, along with the CDC and many healthcare professionals, recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months, particularly parents of young children, receive a flu vaccine. "Everyone should have the flu shot, across the board," Shah said.

It takes about two weeks for the antibodies that protect against the flu to develop in the body, according to the CDC, which is why CDC officials recommend people begin getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available.

The exceptionally bad flu season last year, across Chicago and the entire country, forced many states to declare a state of emergency, an outbreak that officials are hoping to avoid this year.

The Chicago Department of Public Health has set up five Fast-Track Immunization Clinics throughout the city to provide free vaccines to people of all ages on a first-come, first-serve basis.