It’s “that” time of year again. The snow is falling, the wind is howling, and people are getting sick. One form of prevention that has become increasingly popular, especially at pharmacies, is the flu vaccine.
Jennifer Howard, staff pharmacist at Slippery Rock Giant Eagle, described the flu shot as an added shield of protection against the flu virus in the human body.
“A flu shot is an immunization to prompt our immune system to produce defense to the flu,” Howard said. “So when our bodies are presented with the flu virus in the community, it will have the strength and the immune memory to fight it off.”
Grove City Rite Aid pharmacy manager Ned Moore explained how the vaccination works.
“It’s a dead virus that you’re giving to people,” Moore said. “It works when your body creates antibodies to the virus. It won’t make you sick, but it boosts your immunity to the common seasonal flu viruses. [The flu itself] is a viral infection affecting your lungs. It causes cough, body aches, really high fever. It’s a lung and respiratory illness that can turn into a more serious infection, such as pneumonia.”
According to Moore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration work together every year to predict which strains of virus will be most common each season and then produce the vaccine containing the dead virus, which is then administered at pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
“Scientists, along with medical practitioners, study trends in the community,” Howard said. “And they usually pick the top three influenza virus strands.”
All three of those strands then go into the vaccine, according to Howard.
While Moore said there are slight disadvantages to getting the flu shot, such as feeling run down or having muscle soreness, Howard said that for most people, it’s a very small risk.
“The benefits are much, much heavier weighted on the scale than the risks are,” she said. “But the importance of [getting the shot] is different for all age levels. For the elderly, it may mean the difference between a lengthy, costly hospital stay or significant illness on top of already existing disease states, but for the middle-aged and college students, it simply prevents lost time from classes and work.”
So who should get the vaccine? According to Moore, everyone should, since it greatly reduces a person’s chances of getting the influenza.
“It’s for anybody six months and older,” he stated. “First off, they want the elderly people—people over 65—and the pregnant people to get it. But everybody six months and older should get it.”
Howard encourages college students to get vaccinated.
“They’re [living] in close quarters in dormitories,” she said. “Most of the dorms still share bathrooms. The cafeterias, and even the bedrooms—the flu is everywhere.”
Howard also mentioned that many college students from the area have already had the flu this semester and have had prescriptions for antiviral medications called in.
Rite Aid has averaged around 500 vaccinations annually over the past two years at the Grove City location, and according to Moore, expects the number to be similar this year. Giant Eagle began giving the flu shots in October and has averaged about 10 shots a day, according to Howard.
“The big difference was that there was a shortage of flu shots in the past,” said Howard. “Now we’re not seeing that from manufacturers. They’re predicting better in order to not run out.”
Moore and Howard both mentioned the increasing popularity of getting a flu shot directly at the pharmacy because of the accessibility and the price.
“It’s becoming more popular to get them at pharmacies,” Moore said. “It’s very accessible for patients. They can just come in any time. We can give them any time that we’re open. A lot of insurances are getting on board with that, and they’re covering it here at the pharmacy. It’s usually cheaper for people also because they don’t have to make a doctor appointment and pay the doctor co-pay.”
Students who are interested in getting a flu shot can get their vaccination for free at the Student Health Center.