If you’ve been to the drugstore lately, you may have noticed holes on the shelves where the flu medication used to be.
That’s because influenza season has officially arrived, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, which stated that seasonal cases are now widespread across the state.
“This is the earliest start to an ordinary flu season in Tennessee since 2003, with seasonal flu now spreading in communities across our state,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner. “People who are still unvaccinated are at increased risk of getting sick and spreading the virus to others. It’s very important for people who are not yet vaccinated to do so now.”
Health Department officials are urging anyone who hasn’t yet received a flu vaccine to do so to help protect not only themselves but also vulnerable family and friends from the virus.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said the most common strain of flu circulating currently tends to cause more severe cases of illness, especially in the elderly. But CDC officials also said this week that the available vaccine is a good match for the flu strains circulating in the U.S.
The CDC and the state Health Department recommend annual flu vaccinations for everyone older than 6 months.
“With the earlier start of flu activity in Tennessee, we can expect to see significant influenza activity through January or February, and it is capable of lingering as late as May,” said Kelly Moore, medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “It’s not too late to benefit from the vaccine. But, it takes one or two weeks after being vaccinated for you to be protected, so if you haven’t yet gotten a vaccine, don’t wait.”
Flu vaccine for all ages is commonly available through primary health care providers, walk-in clinics, pharmacies and county health departments.
Children covered by TennCare or without insurance that covers flu vaccine can get the vaccination for just a small administration fee at county health department clinics through the Vaccines for Children program. Children will not, however, be turned away if parents cannot afford the administration fee.
In Davidson County, call or visit the Lentz Public Health Center located at 311 23rd Ave. N. (615-340-5616, open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Click here  for a list of Tennessee’s county health departments.
Health officials say the flu vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for serious illness or death from the flu such as the elderly, pregnant women and young children, as well as health care workers and family and friends of anyone at high risk.
Pregnant women should be vaccinated during pregnancy to protect themselves and their unborn babies.