DEAR ABBY: Most of us know that people 65 years of age and older need a "flu" (influenza) shot every year. Soon we will see lines of senior citizens waiting to get their flu shots at grocery stores, banks and community centers. Many more seniors will go to their own private doctor to get protection against the influenza virus that kills an average of 20,000 people every year in the United States.
But where are the young people? Millions of people under 65 have certain medical conditions for which flu shots are strongly recommended. Please, Abby, urge your younger readers, including your pregnant readers, to read on and get ready to roll up their sleeves, too!
Flu shots are now recommended every fall for pregnant women who will be beyond the first trimester of pregnancy (14 weeks) during influenza season. Flu shots are also strongly recommended for people of any age who have medical problems such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma, weak immune systems, and for those who live with or provide care for these individuals. Nursing home residents should get flu shots, too, and most do. Flu shots can be given to any person (6 months of age or older) who wants to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with influenza this season.
While your readers are requesting their flu shots, they should also ask their physicians if they need a "pneumococcal shot." Pneumococcal disease kills up to 40,000 people each year in the United States. A one-time pneumococcal shot is recommended for everyone 65 and older, yet fewer than one-third of these adults have been vaccinated against this disease. This vaccine, like influenza vaccine, is also recommended for many younger people who have certain medical conditions.
Abby, please tell your readers the best time to get their flu shots is in October or November. And let's hope that this year's potential victims of influenza and pneumococcal disease will roll up their sleeves and get the vaccines that can save their lives! -- DEBORAH L. WEXLER, M.D., EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IMMUNIZATION ACTION COALITION, ST. PAUL, MINN.
DEAR DR. WEXLER: National Adult Immunization Week begins Oct. 11 and runs through the 16th, so I'm pleased to print your reminder.
While I'm on the subject, I'd like to dispel a myth about flu shots. People do NOT get the flu from flu shots. The virus in flu shots has been killed or inactivated.
Readers who are most vulnerable to the flu should roll up their sleeves and line up -- behind me! (I had my pneumococcal vaccination two years ago -- the vaccination is good for a lifetime for healthy adults 65 and older.)