The flu season is officially under way in Alaska, and while it’s impossible to say what exactly the season will look like, local health agencies are trying to prepare central Kenai Peninsula residents with shots.
Some may not even have to get out of their cars. Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna is planning its annual drive-through flu shot clinic on Wednesday for anyone over 18 years old. The clinic runs from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The event usually serves hundreds of people, said Camille Sorenson, the marketing manager for the hospital.
“We’ve never run out of vaccinations,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people call me about it (and) ask, ‘Are you doing that again this year?’”
Those seeking a vaccine will line up in their cars along Fireweed Street in Soldotna and verify their age before receiving a shot and taking off. The shots are free.
One difference this year is that the nasal spray flu vaccine is no longer being recommended. The nasal spray, also called the live-attenuated influenza vaccine, has been shown to be ineffective this year, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nasal spray was also shown to be ineffective in the 2013–2014 and 2015–2016 flu seasons, according to the CDC.
Influenza is not caused by just one type of virus — there are two major types that get people sick, influenza A and influenza B, with many different subtypes. The CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices evaluates and recommends flu vaccines every year based on the relative prevalence of different influenza types found in surveillance throughout the year.
Last year in Alaska, the state received seven reports of deaths from influenza, all of whom were adults. In general, those who were vaccinated seemed to be well protected against the disease last season, according to a Sept. 20 bulletin from the state Division of Public Health Section of Epidemiology. H1N1 dominated early in the season, followed by H3N2 and influenza B types later in the season, according to the bulletin.
“Nationally and in Alaska the majority of influenza A and influenza B (types) were well matched to the 2015–2016 influenza vaccine,” the bulletin states.
It’s hard to predict when the flu season will peak in Alaska, but the peak usually falls between November and March.
The CDC recommends annual flu vaccines for every person older than 6 months old without contraindications, preferably early in the season before many people in the community are sick. It’s best to get one by the end of October, if possible, but some children may need more than one depending on how many vaccines they have had before, according to the CDC.
“…Getting vaccinated later is OK,” the CDC’s website states. “Vaccination should continue throughout the flu season, even in January or later.”
In Kenai, those seeking a flu vaccine can go to the Kenai Public Health Center, Safeway or their doctor to get a flu vaccine. In Soldotna, Fred Meyer, Safeway, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy provide flu shots, as do medical clinics.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.