SCHENECTADY — Flu season has begun, with a handful of confirmed cases across the state, including a few in Schenectady County two weeks in a row.
Reports were not available Sunday for the week ended Oct. 28, but the New York Department of Health reported 76 infections statewide for the week ended Oct. 21 and 47 the week ended Oct. 14. The only confirmed Capital Region cases either week were in Schenectady County; the exact number was not available.
There has been some speculation that the 2017-2018 flu season will be worse than normal because Australia’s was much worse than normal, but state health officials say it is too soon to identify a trend or make a prediction for the rest of the season, even as they monitor the annual outbreak and prepare weekly tallies.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention likewise does not offer a prediction on the severity of this year’s flu season.
But both agencies suggest that everyone get a flu shot. On the individual level, a shot can prevent the suffering and the rare serious or deadly complications of the flu; at the societal level, it can slow the spread of the disease. Most insurers cover the cost of flu shots, which is much less than the cost of treating flu complications.
Typically by the end of October, most people who are receptive to the message have gotten their shot. The CDC reports that 134 million of the 146 million flu shots administered in the 2016-2017 season were given before Nov. 1.
It’s not too late to get a shot now, even as the influenza virus starts to spread across upstate New York, said pharmacist Alisha Roberts, because while the shot takes as much as two weeks for full effect, the worst of the flu season is still more than two weeks away.
Roberts is the Golub Corp.’s clinical coordinator for the pharmacies at 85 Price Chopper and Market 32 supermarkets. She said the 2008 change in state law that allowed pharmacists to administer flu shots and certain other vaccinations was an important step in getting more of the population immunized, as it allowed shots to be given more quickly without an appointment. The convenience factor is even higher at a supermarket, she said, because so many people visit so often.
The Schenectady-based Golub Corp. gradually expanded its flu shot program until it was in place at all 85 pharmacies, and its usage has been growing as well, Roberts said. Through the first 10 weeks of this flu shot season, Golub pharmacists have administered 35 percent more shots than in the same period last year, she said, partly due to earlier delivery by manufacturers.
“We’re able to have it in the store and ready to go as early as the last week in August,” she said.
Flu shots are strongly recommended for children, the elderly, people with existing health problems, and those who work closely with any of these groups, Roberts said.
For the rest of the population — those who don’t have some compelling reason to make a special trip to get a shot — supermarkets and pharmacies provide convenience.
“For people who probably wouldn’t get it, it’s a nice option,” Roberts said.
Every flu season is different, she said, and so are the motives that drive people to get vaccinated.
Weather, news coverage and reports about early outbreaks can all push people to get a shot.
“We’re seeing the drive is dependent on a lot of factors,” Roberts said.
CDC data show that national flu-vaccination rates gradually have been rising, from 40.5 percent for adults and 51 percent for children in 2010-2011 to 43.3 percent for adults and 59 percent for children in 2016-2017.
New York was in the top third of states for percentage of population receiving flu shots in 2016-2017, the CDC reported. Nationally, the rate ranged from 36 percent in Nevada to 56.4 percent in Rhode Island. New York came in at 49.8 percent.
Golub Corp. buys in bulk and stocks each of its pharmacies with what it expects to be enough vaccine, which is a difficult prediction to make, then holds the rest in reserve at its Rotterdam distribution center.
Roberts said people who forget or decline to get flu shots early on can still get them later in the season, even after people have been getting sick around them, even if they’ve been sick themselves.
There is more than one strain of influenza each year, she explained, so a person who’s been stricken with one strain can still get sick again with another stain.
The flu vaccine protects against four strains of influenza.