With flu season approaching, vaccine can create ‘protective shield’ for families

With flu season just around the corner, health professionals are advising people to take preventative measures and receive a flu shot.

Dr. Olympia Tachopoulou, director of infection control for St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma, part of CHI Franciscan, said this flu season should not bring any surprises but it is important for people to get vaccinated early.

Flu vaccines create antibodies in the body, but it takes two weeks for them to develop. Flu season begins in late October and runs through February, and most hospitals, clinics and pharmacies are already offering vaccines to people.

Tachopoulou describes the flu vaccine as taking a picture of the virus, so if a body is invaded by influenza, the immune system recognizes that picture and fights it.

“A battle you don’t have to fight at all is better than a battle you have to fight your way through,” Tachopoulou said.

She said, right now, the Center for Disease Control recommends everyone receive a flu vaccine, but especially young children, people older than 65 and people who are high risk because they are pregnant or have specific illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and autoimmune diseases.

“These are people who are going to get very sick if they come down with influenza, and they are people who are at greater risk of dying,” Tachopoulou said.

Tachopoulou said, if people are administered the proper vaccine for their demographic or needs, it is 60 percent effective. People who still get the flu may develop a less serious case than people who are unvaccinated, she said.

In households with young or older people, Tachopoulou said it is important for all family members to receive the vaccine.

“We do want the family members to get the vaccine to create a protective shield,” she said.

Tachopoulou said people who aren’t vaccinated most often say they don’t get it anymore because the last time they did, they got sick immediately afterward. Considering flu vaccines are administered at places where people go to receive treatment for illness, she said it is likely people catch something else instead.

“My guess is that people happen to get exposed to other viruses and then they attribute that to the flu vaccine,” she said, adding there is no mistaking the flu if people get it.

Symptoms include high fever, chills, extreme body aches, headache, sore throat and more.

“You can’t miss it,” Tachopoulou said.

She said people should get the flu vaccine every year, as the body’s immune system declines over time. Flu viruses are also constantly changing, and therefore the formula for the flu vaccine is updated every year to keep up with the changing disease.

Tachopoulou said vaccines have also improved to meet people’s needs. Tachopoulou said there is a flu vaccine for people who are allergic to eggs, which are used to help create the flu vaccine. There are also stronger vaccines for older people.

Tachopoulou said last year’s vaccines were successful, but there were still high rates of people, especially the elderly, going to the hospital, likely because they weren’t administered the proper vaccine.

As people age and their immune systems get weaker, their bodies need a stronger vaccine to fight off the flu.

In addition to doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies, Virginia Mason in Federal Way, 33501 First Way S., is offering walk-in flu clinics for people 6 months in age and older until Nov. 18. The clinics are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The cost of the flu shot is based on the vaccine type administered. Most insurance plans cover 100 percent of the flu vaccine cost.

Editor’s Note: Jake Gregg, former Mirror intern, contributed to this report.

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