With the feverish and achy flu season just around the corner, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is recommending residents to get their flu shots now.
"We want everyone who can be vaccinated to be vaccinated not just to protect themselves but so they can protect the people they come in contact with," said Greg Wilkinson, spokesperson for the state department.
He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending everyone 6 months of age and older to get vaccinated.
"This year we're going to blanket everyone," Wilkinson said.
He said that last year's divisions of priority populations were puzzling for some members of the public.
"Everybody found it so confusing,," he said. "Is it this group? Is it that group? Everyone 6 months and over should get a flu shot. That just makes it easy."
But, he said the state is still recognizing the importance of certain groups in getting flu shots, like people over the age of 65 and under 5 years old, those with pre-existing respiratory conditions and women who might be getting pregnant.
Wilkinson said the state of Alaska purchased 90,000 doses of the vaccine and distributed them to public health statewide.
"There's a lot of opportunities and places for people to go to get vaccinated," he said.
Vaccinations are available at the state's centers, various pharmacies and at private medical practices.
With the worries over the H1N1 flu mostly eased, there will not be vaccine clinics held in the state's public schools this year.
"We reacted appropriately last year to the H1N1 threat not really knowing if it was going to be a bad flu or not," he said. "H1N1 did not turn out to be as bad as we thought it might be. We're back to a regular flu year."
Ross Roadarmel, a pharmacist at Fred Meyer in Soldotna, said that the shots this year have both the seasonal flu and H1N1 anti-bodies in them.
"Rather than two shots like last year there's just one," he said.
Roadarmel said Fred Meyer received their flu vaccines some three weeks ago and has been steadily vaccinating people in the community.
On Saturday, he administered seven vaccinations in the morning, and on weekdays he said he gives anywhere from 10 to 20 shots. He said those numbers will probably remain steady until the beginning of November.
The pharmacy offers the flu shots for $25 a pop, but it is also covered by many insurance programs, he said.
"We try as much as possible to offer it anytime," he said, including for walk-in customers.
Roadarmel said it is also recommended that immunocompromised individuals, like those with diabetes, receive a shot twice a year, once now, in the fall, and another time early in the year, like around January.
"That way it will take them clear through to spring," he said.
But, "for the normal healthy individual the antibodies for the vaccine will last eight to 10 months so they only need one shot to the through the flu season," he said.
Wilkinson said it takes individuals about two weeks to build up immunity in reaction to the vaccine.
"The sooner you get it done the faster you'll be protected," he said.
For the week of Sept. 11, only one of 25 specimens submitted to the state's lab tested positive for influenza, according to Wilkinson.
"The flu is not quite here quite yet but it's a perfect time for people to be vaccinated before we're all getting sick," he said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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