Free flu vaccine now available

The seasonal flu vaccine is now available throughout the Cayman Islands.

Director of Primary Health Care Dr. Kiran Kumar said this year’s flu vaccine will also protect against the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu.

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

To meet demand during the initial period, the flu shot will also be available at the Cayman Islands Hospital Atrium, next to the pharmacy, from 8 to 19 October from 10am to noon on weekdays.

Flu shots will also be available at CayShop 2012, 25-27 October at the Arc in Camana Bay.

The flu vaccine is free to all residents. No appointments are necessary, however, people should indicate to the registration officer at the clinic that they need to have the flu shot.

“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,” Dr. Kumar said.

Dr. Kumar advises that the vaccine is only effective for one season. Everyone ages 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine.

It is especially important for people at high risk for complications from influenza, as well as those who live with or care for them, be vaccinated early each year.

High-risk people include young children ages 6 months to 4 years, but especially those under 2 years; pregnant women; people 50 years of age and older; those of any age with weakened immune systems and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart, kidney and lung diseases and diabetes; and people living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

“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 20 or more employees wishing to have the vaccine,” Dr. Kumar said.

Companies interested in the programme should contact the Public Health Department at 244-2648 to register. A minimum of 20 persons are required in order to benefit from the onsite vaccination.

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 of getting flu and lessen the chance of transmitting it to others.

The 2012-2013 flu vaccine includes protection against 2009 H1N1 flu virus, Influenza A (H3N2) and Influenza B.

The following people should not be vaccinated without first consulting their physician: Children under 6 months of age; those with a severe allergy to chicken or chicken eggs (the flu vaccine virus is grown on hens’ eggs); those with a known allergy to systemic Neomycin should inform the health care worker before vaccination; those who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past; those who developed Guillian-Barre’ syndrome within six weeks of getting a vaccine previously; those 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 breastfeeding before taking the flu shot.

The flu jab is administered by injection, usually in the arm. It is approved for use among people ages 6 months or older, including healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body. These 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 Cayman Islands Health Services Authority recommends that people get their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as the vaccine becomes available. 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 6 months to 8 years who are being vaccinated for the first time need a second dose four weeks later in order to be protected.

It’s important to get vaccinated each year as the immunity that is built up from having the flu caused by one virus strain does not always provide protection when a new strain is circulating. Secondly, a vaccine made against flu viruses circulating last year may not protect against the newer viruses. That is why the influenza vaccine is updated to include current viruses every year.

If anyone gets an uncommon or rare side effect to the influenza vaccine, he or she should seek medical attention right away and tell the doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the flu shot was administered.

For more information, contact: Public Health Clinic at 244-2648; the General Practice Unit at 244-2800; Faith Hospital at 948-2243; Little Cayman Clinic at 948-0114; East End District Health Centre 947-7440; North Side District Health Centre 947-9525; West Bay District Health Centre 949-3439; Bodden Town District Health Centre 947-2299.

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