MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WPDE) - The state department of health wants you to think about getting your flu shot now.
"Flu vaccine is in plentiful supply across the state through private providers," said Linda Bell, M.D. and an epidemiologist with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. "In the coming weeks, DHEC county public health departments will also be offering the vaccine. The flu vaccine is still the best way to guard against serious illness this fall and winter."
Winona McLamb, Health and Education Director at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, agrees that you shouldn't procrastinate when it comes to getting a flu shot.
"You can't predict what the flu season is going to be like. We had a mild season last year. That doesn't mean it's going to be mild this year," she explained. "We used to talk about waiting a little bit later but what the CDC says now is as soon as it's available go ahead and get your vaccine. Most healthy people will have immunity that lasts through the entire season."
In addition to DHEC and doctors offices, major retailers are also offering flu shots. Those in the health care industry say that's a good thing because it opens up access to more people.
"I think it's very helpful. I think we've seen an increased rate of people taking the vaccine. Many don't have their own doctor and we found that out many years ago when we started our own influenza program here," said McLamb.
"It gives people the convenience and opportunity to get it on their time, they don't have to make an appointment with their doctor during office hours to go in and get the flu shot," added Jessica Smith, a nurse practitioner with CVS' Minute Clinic.
If you're concerned about a reaction from getting the flu shot, those are rare and nurses say protection is worth it.
"The flu can be a terrible illness. It usually lasts about five to seven days. The person is going to be severely ill, going to miss work, going to miss school. And that is definitely more severe than any mild reaction that you may get from the flu vaccine itself," said Smith.
Health officials recommend that everyone six months and older get vaccinated against the flu.
Vaccination to prevent flu is particularly important for persons who are at an increased risk of complications, including:
Children ages 6 months to 5 years
Adults 50 and older
Persons with chronic medical conditions
Persons with suppressed immune systems
Persons ages 6 months to 18 years and receiving long-term aspirin therapy
Residents of nursing homes and chronic care facilities
American Indians / Alaskan Natives
Persons who are morbidly obese
Household contacts and caregivers of children 5 years or younger, adults 50 and older, and people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for complications.
"Our DHEC clinics will continue to serve anyone who needs a flu vaccine this season," Dr. Bell said. "But starting with the 2013-14 flu season, our clinics will focus their limited resources on residents who are uninsured, underinsured, or cannot receive their vaccination elsewhere." Dr. Bell said visitors to DHEC's vaccination clinics would be informed of the changes so that they can begin planning for next year.
To learn where and when influenza vaccine will be offered in your area, visit the state health department's website.
Grand Strand Regional Medical Center will offer a flu clinic Wednesday, October 24 from 4 - 6pm at the YMCA on 62nd Ave North in Myrtle Beach. Flu shots are $20 and for ages 18 and up. No registration required.