Is it time to roll up  a sleeve for a flu shot?

Posted: September 5, 2013

The Winchester Star

Tony Fields, a pharmacist at Lantz’s Pharmacy in Stephens City, displays some influenza virus vaccine. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Pharmacy technician Brandie Baker says the flu vaccine will soon be ready for customers at Lantz’s Pharmacy.

STEPHENS CITY — Any day now, Lantz’s Pharmacy will receive its season’s worth of flu shots.

But the stampede of customers to the Stephens City business seeking to protect themselves from influenza won’t start until the fall.

“Most people don’t even think about the flu till it gets cold,” said pharmacist Tony Fields. “Most people like to wait.”

That line of thinking is what Dr. Charles Devine wants to change.

“Get it as soon as it becomes available,” the director of the Lord Fairfax Health District said about flu vaccines. “We don’t know and can’t predict how intense flu season will be or predict when the flu will come to town.”

The Health District includes Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties.

Most area pharmacies now offer flu shots, even though the season is still officially summer. The Health District expects to start receiving flu vaccine by mid- to late September.

Several flu vaccine products are available. The most common is the standard trivalent flu vaccine, expected to be widely available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies and health departments. It is recommended anyone 6 months of age and older.

For the first time, certain quadrivalent vaccines will be offered to guard against four flu strains instead of the usual three. Children are more likely to contract the fourth strain than adults, and the quadrivalent version is approved for individuals 6 months and older.

Some pharmacies and doctors’ offices might offer a flu vaccine with no egg protein — called Flublok — for those with severe egg allergies (aged 18 to 49). The vaccine will not be available at health departments this season.

A stronger flu vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose) is available for those 65 or older who may have less of a response to the standard flu vaccine than younger individuals. The high-dose vaccine is not available at the health department, but can be obtained at some area pharmacies.

A nasal spray flu vaccine (for ages 2-49) and an intradermal flu vaccine that slightly pricks the skin (for ages 18 through 64) are options for those who don’t like needles.

Rite Aid pharmacies, like many other area pharmacies, can administer the regular injectable flu shot, the high-dose flu shot and the intradermal flu shot. Upon request, Rite Aid can also order and administer an intranasal flu shot.

According to Devine, a flu vaccine is effective for about one year.

John Rotz, owner of Rotz Pharmacy on Amherst Street, believes the shot does not last that long. For this reason, the pharmacy will not administer flu shots until Sept. 30 unless a customer requests one.

“If you give it too soon, it’s not going to cure you in the months of March and April,” he said. “There’s absolutely no reason to give it this soon.”

“There’s a slew of new vaccines,” Rotz added. “It’s the most I’ve ever seen.”

Centers for Disease Control officials recommend that people be vaccinated against influenza as soon as the vaccine becomes available in their community.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

Last year, flu became widespread in Virginia in mid-December and persisted at the widespread level through mid-March. Devine called it a “fairly early onset” that was “fairly intense.”

The Health District provided about 4,200 doses of flu vaccine during the season.

— Contact Rebecca Layne