Every year, the season kicks off amid publicity, hype and general anxiety about this or that particular opponent.
It’s not football. It’s seasonal flu. And officials are urging all seniors to get in the game and protect themselves.
“The big picture is that every single year, it’s critical for seniors to be vaccinated,” says Dr. Anne Bailowitz, acting chief medical offier of the Baltimore City Health Department. “From the beginning of time, we’ve seen that seniors are at risk from the flu. If they do catch it, they are the group that has the highest risk for death and hospitalization.”
According to Bailowitz, while the flu can make anyone “feel like they’ve run into a wall,” seniors (whose human immune defense system has become weakened with age) are particularly vulnerable to secondary infections such as pneumonia.
In an average year, says Bailowitz, approximately 24,000 people die after contracting the flu, and another 225,000 are hospitalized. The CDC notes that an estimated 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older.
“It’s vastly more easy to protect against the flu than it is to treat it, particularly in seniors,” Bailowitz notes.
Last year’s biggest health scare was the H1N1 strain of flu, which caused a need for two separate vaccines, one for H1N1, and one for the so-called seasonal flu. According to Bailowitz, this year’s seasonal flu vaccine will be a simpler matter, covering not just H1N1, but two other forms, H3N2 and Influenza-B.
There is no shortage of the vaccine, and it is available now, Bailowitz adds. Seniors can see their own doctor, or if they have no regular doctor, they can obtain free vaccinations through the health department (see schedule below).
And one more thing? “You can’t get the flu from getting the flu shot,” she adds.
The city’s free immunization van is making the rounds. Residents are encouraged to check the website for the most current clinic information: www.baltimorehealth.org, or call 410-396-4454.
The Bureau of Immunization will continue to dispense flu vaccine at its two standing immunization clinics: Eastern Health District Center at 620 N. Caroline Street, and at its offices located at 1800 N. Charles Street (6th floor). The TIKE program (To Immunize Kids Everywhere) also offers immunizations to seniors. (Note: No clinics are offered on city holidays).
Note: On Saturday, Sept. 25, immunizations will be given at Church of the Redeemer, 4321 Old York Road, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. On Monday, Sept. 27, the TIKE van will be at the Esperanza Center, 430 S. Broadway, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
The remainder of the month (with the exception of the dates mentioned above), the schedule is as follows:
Mondays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., BCHD Immunization Office, 1800 N. Charles Street, Suite 600.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., BCHD Eastern Health District, 620 N. Caroline Street
All Health Department immunization clinics are free. Unless otherwise stated, people are seen on a first-come, first-serve basis. Bring children’s vaccination records. Those under age 18 years old are required to bring a parent or legal guardian to provide vaccination consent.