(ARA) – Last year’s flu season turned out to be less severe than initially feared, perhaps because the H1N1 scare made people more vigilant about flu vaccinations. Still, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 24,000 people in the U.S. die from the flu each year, and more than 275,000 were hospitalized from just the H1N1 virus last season.
Now another flu season is upon us. And while the World Health Organization has declared an end to the H1N1 pandemic, the organization expects the virus to circulate for years to come and to continue affecting young people most severely. That means getting vaccinated against the flu is just as important as ever.
It’s never been easier to get a flu shot when it’s most convenient for you. Here are five new things you should know about this year’s flu vaccine that could help keep you and your family healthy throughout the season:
1. One shot – Last season, millions of people were vaccinated twice – first for seasonal flu starting in September and later for the H1N1 virus. This year, only one shot is needed for protection against both seasonal flu and H1N1.
2. Everyone 6 months and older – For the first time, the CDC is recommending universal flu vaccination – with everyone older than 6 months recommended to get a shot, including pregnant women.
3. Never too early (or too late) – Flu shots were available early this year, with some retailers offering them in early August. A shot now will protect you all season long. Most retailers will offer shots through the spring, or while supplies last. Health experts agree: It’s best to get the shot early and be protected for the duration of the flu season, especially because flu season is unpredictable and no one knows when viruses will begin to circulate or when flu activity will peak.
4. More convenient than you think – Many local pharmacies offer flu shots. In fact, Walgreens, the nation’s largest retail provider of flu shots, offers immunizations at every one of its 7,500 pharmacies and all of its Take Care Clinics nationwide, every day, during nearly all pharmacy and clinic hours and without an appointment. Walgreens even offers flu shot gift cards that make it easy for those you care about to get a flu shot (especially kids away at school and distant relatives). The cost of $29.99 is covered under a number of medical plans. Walgreens is able to bill a number of national providers directly.
5. Plentiful supply – According to the CDC, more than 160 million doses of flu vaccine have been produced. That’s more than ever before and a 40 percent increase over last year’s vaccine production, when shortages made it challenging for many to get a flu shot.
“Whether you’re among the more than 100 million Americans who get a flu shot every year or are on the fence about whether to get one, it’s as important this season as it’s ever been and now as easy as a trip to your neighborhood drugstore,” says Kermit Crawford, Walgreens president of pharmacy services. “Pharmacies have become one of the fastest-growing and most-trusted resources for flu shots in recent years, offering convenient, accessible and affordable flu prevention and health care services in thousands of communities nationwide.”