Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
It's not too late to vaccinate!
With flu activity increasing and family and friends planning gatherings for the holidays, now is a great time to get a flu vaccine if you have not gotten vaccinated yet. Dec. 4-10 is this year’s National Influenza Vaccination Week (or NIVW), a time to highlight the importance of continuing flu vaccination through the holiday season and beyond.
Seasonal flu activity varies each year, and usually peaks between December and February. However, flu viruses can circulate as late as May. As long as flu activity is ongoing, it’s not too late to get vaccinated, so it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
Flu vaccines are the best defense against flu infection, and for Veterans—who are used to protecting others—getting vaccinated is just one other way to continue that mission.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Its symptoms can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and tiredness. People with flu may not experience all these symptoms.
It can be easy to confuse flu with the common cold, but generally, the flu is worse than a cold, and its symptoms are more intense. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Another difference is the seriousness of the diseases. In general, colds do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations, which are all complications that can result from a flu infection.
Some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications from flu. For people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women and young children, flu can be particularly dangerous. The flu shot helps prevent these complications.
Millions of Americans are safely vaccinated each year. During the 2015-2016 flu season, nearly 1.8 million Veterans got a flu vaccine according to preliminary VA data.
Shane Hallowell is the Health Promotion, Disease Prevention program manager at Charleston VA. A large part of his job is helping Veterans and VA employees stay safe from diseases like flu.
“We know flu shots are the best way to keep from getting sick with flu, so it’d be great to see every Veteran vaccinated this season,” says Hallowell. “When our patients get vaccinated, they’re not only protecting themselves from flu, but they’re also to keeping their family, friends and other close contacts from getting sick.”
Veterans can get a flu shot at Charleston VA during their regular appointments, or attend any of the walk-in flu clinics that rotate between Charleston VA’s main site and its community outpatient clinics. Additionally, VA has partnered with Walgreens® retail pharmacies to provide free flu vaccinations for enrolled Veterans through the VA Retail Immunization Care Coordination Program. Veterans can conveniently visit any participating Walgreens®, present their Veterans Identification Card and a photo ID, and receive a flu shot at no cost.
“For us, it doesn’t matter where you get your flu shot. We just want to make sure Veterans and their families to be protected,” says Hallowell. “All we ask is for Veterans who get vaccinated at other locations to please let their VA provider know so we can make sure their medical records accurate and up to date.”
As long as flu viruses are spreading and causing illness, vaccination should continue in order to protect as many people as possible against the flu. Help control the spread of flu this season by getting a flu vaccine. Talk to your VA provider if you have questions or concerns about getting the flu shot.