Around 6,000 flu vaccines have been given by the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health, and 3,000 more are in store.
To encourage more people to get the vaccine, the department has cut the price in half, from $20 to $10.
Health department spokeswoman Heather Baer said getting a flu shot is about more than ensuring your own health.
“A lot of the people feel that if they get the flu, they will be fine,” Baer said. “And I think what you are not thinking of is even if you are not a person that may end up in a hospital from the flu or die, you could be spreading it to someone who does have complications, and before long they will get very sick from that. So it is not just for yourself; it’s protecting your community as well.”
The health department reported on Friday that about 50 people in Boone County have tested positive for the flu. During the week ending Dec. 9, 60 people in Missouri died from pneumonia and influenza, according to the most recent numbers available from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
“There has been an increased number of people reporting to physicians’ offices, hospitals and clinics about the flu symptoms,” Baer said. “Usually once that happens, you assume the person does have a strain of the flu, and you begin treatment for that at that time and ask them to take this for caution.”
Michael Cooperstock, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospital, said most of the cases thus far have involved influenza A.
“We have plenty of cases here at the University of Missouri,” Cooperstock said. “Statewide, they are recognizing a large number of cases also. And some of those can be serious, and in fact, the virus kills an average of about 36,000 people every year in the United States.”
Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Its peak could be anywhere between late December to March.
Vaccines are the best way to avoid flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but it still helps to get the shot in December or later, said Kena McAfee, prevention nurse at the MU Student Health Center. The vaccine will be effective within two weeks.
Cooperstock recommends that children between 6 months and 5 years old be vaccinated. Children younger than 2 are at highest risk. Family members of children younger than 6 months should all get vaccinated because no vaccine or anti-virus treatment is available for infants. Also, people older than 50, people with chronic illnesses, and those who have close physical contact with those risk groups should be immunized.
“The vaccine shot works about 70 percent of the time, which means it completely prevents the flu 70 percent of the time it would have occurred otherwise,” said Cooperstock. “And the other 30 percent who still got the flu in spite of the vaccine on average avoid severe illness. So even if it does not prevent them, it makes them milder.”
Two types of vaccines are available for Boone County residents. The flu shot is an injection that is applied to people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions. The other type is the intranasal flu vaccine. It is approved only for healthy people who are not pregnant and are between 5 and 49.
Cooperstock said the number of people who get vaccines has grown in the past few years. However, studies show that across the United States only two-thirds of people older than 65 get the vaccination. That group, however, accounts for 95 percent of flu-related deaths.
Baer said one of the reasons people avoid flu shots may be a misunderstanding about its effects.
“You cannot get flu from a flu shot,” said Baer. “I think it’s just some basic fears. And the fact that people don’t think about is that if they get sick, they will pass it on to others who could potentially become very ill. So our goal is to keep the community as healthy as possible.”