Seacoast doctors: Now is the perfect time to get a flu shot

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By: Karen Dandurant,

DOVER – No one is really sure what this year’s flu season is going to look like, but what is universally agreed upon is the wisdom of getting a flu vaccine shot.

There are two theories about this year’s flu season, one that it could be very bad because of COVID-19, and the second, that flu season itself might not be too bad because of the precautions being taken already for COVID-19. Masking, social distancing and hand hygiene may result in fewer cases, or less serious cases.

Medical professionals say flu vaccinations are generally in good supply, and the time to get that shot is now.

Dr. Apara Dave, infectious disease specialist at Exeter Hospital said they are on track to vaccinate staff and patients, with no shortage in supply.

“We have been giving them for some time now,” said Dr. Gretchen Volpe, infectious disease doctor at York Hospital. “We have had no issue yet with supply.”

Volpe said orders for the vaccine were put in before the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and that’s why supplies are good.

Volpe said in the past, but not now because of COVID, there had been some thought that getting the shot too early would mean immunity would wear off before the end of the flu season, which can last into March and April.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends early fall through the end of October as the best time to get a flu shot, although anytime during the flu season is still worth getting the shot.

“We are not saying to delay at all,” said Volpe. “It seems anecdotal and not worthy of concern this year. The vaccine is important in terms of protecting yourself and the people around you.”

Dave commented on the idea that getting the shot too early could mean a loss of some immunity late in the season.

“It’s not as big an issue as we once thought it was,” she said. “On the other hand, if you don’t get your shot and it’s Nov. 1, still get it. It’s not too late.”

Jackie Dockham, RN, infection control at Exeter Hospital, said that waning of immunity could be a problem for the elderly and those otherwise compromised.

Dr. Jonathan Thyng, a family physician with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Nashua, said the strains used in the flu vaccine are created each year in part after watching cases in the southern hemisphere, which Thyng said seemed lower than usual.

“It’s too early to talk about the effectiveness of the shot,” said Thyng. “We will start testing soon, we can test for the flu and COVID with the same sample. Otherwise there is no reliable way to differentiate between the two.”

Dave said Australia saw a much milder influenza season this year, but likely because the nation did things right.

“Australia was very good about masking and social distancing,” said Dave. “They were also very proactive about immunizations, reaching a high rate of their population. If we stay vigilant, we might see that. But, if we stop being diligent, or become less diligent, the season could actually be worse.”

Wentworth-Douglass Hospital has begun offering flu clinics in several of their locations. Katherine Weeks, RN, associate director of clinical operations, said the hospital’s supply is good, and the clinics are open to the public.

“We are using the quad vaccine (four strains) for anyone from six months to age 64, and beyond,” said Weeks. “We also have the high dose, recommended for people age 65 and up. It is a stronger dose and offers added protections for people at a higher risk. We have flulaval for those who can’t take the usual shot.”

Weeks said the number of people who cannot get the flu shot are relatively small.

“If they have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the ingredients on the shot in the past, they should talk with their doctor,” said Weeks.

The three Seacoast-area community health centers – Families First Health Center in Portsmouth, Goodwin Community Health in Somersworth and Lilac City Pediatrics in Rochester – have state-supplied flu vaccine for both children and adults who are patients in their practices.

“The general recommendation is to get vaccinated in October to ensure you are protected through the whole flu season,” says Coreen Toussaint, RN, clinical manager at Goodwin. “Anyone immunocompromised or with many comorbidities should definitely get flu shot as soon as possible.”

While these health centers only vaccinate their established patients, there are many other ways for people to get vaccinated, such as at pharmacies.

Dockham said CORE physicians do flu clinics for their patients. She said some of those are planned to be drive-up.

“Others are going to be on Saturdays, when the offices are closed,” said Dockham. “All will be by appointment. Our employee clinics started this Tuesday.”

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