Flu vaccine arrives on Island

The flu season has arrived and with it the latest flu vaccine.

The seasonal flu vaccine is available for free at the Cayman Islands Hospital, district health centres, Faith Hospital and Little Cayman clinic from Tuesday, 19 October.

“We recommend that people get vaccinated as soon as possible and definitely before the peak of the flu season. which ranges between December and January,” said Kiran Kumar, medical officer of health at the Health Services Authority.

Anyone six month of age and older should get the vaccine, Dr. Kumar said. “It is especially important for people at high risk for complications from influenza and those who live with or care for them, be vaccinated early each year.”

The vaccine protects against seasonal flue and also against the H1N1 swine flu.

The flu vaccine will be available at the General Practice Clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital, Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac and all district health centres, from 2-4pm, Monday through Friday. It is also available at the Little Cayman Clinic. Residents of Little Cayman should contact the clinic to make arrangements.

“To minimise workplace disruption and ensure that as many persons as possible get vaccinated, I am also pleased to announce that our Public Health Department will continue our programme of onsite workplace vaccination initiative for companies with ten or more employees wishing to have the vaccine,” said Dr. Kumar.

Interested companies should contact the Public Health Department at 244-2648 to register.

Defining ‘flu’

Influenza is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus, which can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or nasal secretions. Anyone can get influenza, but rates of infection are highest among children. For most people, symptoms last only a few days. They include fever, sore throat, chills, fatigue, cough, headache and muscle aches.

Other illnesses can have the same symptoms and are often mistaken for influenza. An annual flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get flu and lessen the chance that you will transmit to others.

Among those who should get vaccinated are: young children ages six months to four years, but especially those under two years; pregnant women; people 65 years or older; people of any age over six months with weakened immune systems and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart, kidney and lung diseases and diabetes; people living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; and people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care workers, household contacts of those at high risk for complications from the flu and household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children younger than six months old (children too young to be vaccinated).

Medical experts advise against some individuals being vaccinated; they should seek medical advice before getting the flu shot, including: children younger than six months of age; people who are allergic to chicken or eggs as the flu vaccine virus is grown on hens’ eggs; people with allergies to systemic Neomycin; anyone who has had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past; and people who developed Guillian-Barre’ syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting a vaccine previously.

People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated, and nursing mothers should inform their doctor or nurse that they are breast feeding before taking the flu shot.

The flu shot is administered in the Cayman Islands by injection, usually in the arm.

Flu vaccines work by causing antibodies to develop in the body. The antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. It takes up to two weeks for the protection to develop after the shot. Protection lasts about a year.

The Health Services Authority recommends that people get their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as they can. Vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest.

Children ages six months to eight years who are being vaccinated for the first time need a second dose four weeks later in order to be protected. In the meantime, individuals are still at risk for getting the flu, so it is advisable to get vaccinated early in the fall, Dr. Kumar said.