A large number of businesses and industry in Mississippi provide free flu shots to workers in order to prevent widespread illnesses that can adversely impact productivity. But this year businesses will have to wait a bit longer than usual for the shots because of delays in the availability of the vaccine.
“Based on information that we have received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although some of the vaccine will be delayed until October, it is expected that all of the vaccine supply should be available in October and November,” said Jim Craig, director of the Office of Health Protection at the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH).
Vaccine produced by one manufacturer, Chiron, was found to be contaminated, and was destroyed. That has delayed the availability of the flu shots.
“All vaccine manufacturers routinely conduct several safety checks during the vaccine production process,” Craig said. “Chiron’s quality systems identified a small number of lots that did not meet product sterility specifications, and decided to delay releasing all influenza vaccine doses until it completed additional tests.”
Officials with the Center for Disease Control said the delay in releasing the vaccine is positive in that it shows that safety procedures to assure the quality of the vaccine worked correctly. And the shots should be available in plenty of time to become immunized before the flu season rolls around. It takes about two weeks to build the antibodies needed to protect you from the influenza virus after taking the shot.
Craig said healthcare workers in particular are strongly encouraged to protect themselves, their patients and their communities by taking the flu shot to improve prevention, patient safety and reduce the disease burden.
“This will decrease transmission of influenza from patients to caregivers, or caregivers to patients,” Craig said. “As for non-healthcare workers, the influenza vaccine is the primary method for preventing influenza and its severe complications. Certainly anyone who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with influenza should be vaccinated.”
According to the MSDH, the flu can cause bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
Craig said the influenza vaccine can not cause the flu. Flu vaccine is made from killed influenza virus that cannot give you the flu. It works by stimulating the immune system to build defenses against flu.
Last year a number of people got the flu even though they had taken the flu shot. That is because of what is known as “drift” in the flu vaccine. During the time between when the flu shot is developed and when people are exposed, variants of the flu can develop that make the flu vaccine less effective.
However, health authorities advise that the flu shot is still your best protection from all varieties of the flu.
Some people take a flu shot, and then become ill with another type of virus — mistakenly believing that the flu shot hasn’t worked. To tell the difference between colds, stomach viruses and the flu, flu’s symptoms come on suddenly and can include a high fever of 101 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, headache, severe aches and pains, tiredness and weakness and chest discomfort or coughing. Sometimes it involves a stuffy nose, sneezing and sore throat. The MSDH says a cold, on the other hand, rarely causes a fever, headache, extreme exhaustion or aches and pains. Its most prominent symptoms are a stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat and a mild to moderate cough. An illness accompanied by nausea and vomiting is a stomach virus, not the flu.
Although there is cost involved, providing flu shots to employees can be very effective, says John Sewell, director of corporate communications for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi. He said evidence of that is the fact that the flu causes an average of 114,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths a year.
“The shots can prevent the flu in 70% to 90% of healthy adults,” Sewell said. “So, an employer can realize the cost benefits very quickly by offering flu shots, because employees are protected against infection immediately. If they’re not sick, they’re at work.”
Sewell said by offering the vaccine on-site, employers can also benefit by increasing participation, reducing the time required to be away from work to receive the vaccination at another location, and enhancing employee morale and company loyalty.
“Our own experience at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi demonstrates that the cost of dealing with the flu in health insurance benefits and leave time far outweighs the initial cost of providing the vaccination,” he said.
Health officials recommend vaccination with inactivated influenza vaccine for the following persons who are at increased risk for complications from influenza:
• Anyone aged 65 years or older. Vaccination is also recommended for persons aged 50-64 years because this group has an increased prevalence of persons with high-risk conditions.
• Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities that house persons of any age who have chronic medical conditions.
• Adults and children who have chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, including asthma.
• Adults and children who have required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases (including diabetes mellitus), renal dysfunction, hemoglobinopathies or immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by human immunodeficiency virus [HIV]).
• Children and adolescents (aged 6 months-18 years) who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and, therefore, might be at risk for experiencing Reye syndrome after influenza infection.
• Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season; and
• Children aged 6—23 months.
• Physicians, nurses, and other personnel in both hospital and outpatient-care settings, including medical emergency response workers (e.g., paramedics and emergency medical technicians).
• Employees of nursing homes and chronic-care facilities who have contact with patients or residents.
• Employees of assisted living and other residences for persons in groups at high risk.
• Persons who provide home care to persons in groups at high risk.
• Household contacts (including children) of persons in groups at high risk.
A flu shot is not recommended if you have a severe allergy to eggs, a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past or Guillain-Barre syndrome in the six weeks following a previous flu shot.
For people who hate needles and avoid the flu shot for that reason, there is an oral influenza called FluMist that may be available from private provider practices.
Flu vaccinations will be available later this year at doctor’s offices and county health clinics. Pneumonia vaccinations are also available, and are strongly recommended for older Mississippians and others at higher risk for pneumonia. The pneumonia shots are effective for five years. You do not need a flu shot to benefit from a pneumonia vaccination.
For more information about vaccinations, call the MSDH Health Info Hotline at 1-800-489-7670.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.