The Allegheny County Health Department will begin offering the 2010-11, three-in-one flu vaccinations on Oct. 18, but you might want to think about getting one earlier from your doctor or at one of the many privately run sites that offer them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its web- site that "yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January and beyond."
The CDC says its advice is based on the fact that the timing and duration of flu seasons vary. "While influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later," it said.
In the Pittsburgh area, "the peak is usually in February," said county health department spokesman Guillermo Cole.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies that protect against flu virus infection to develop, the CDC said. Protection runs "six months to maybe nine," Mr. Cole said.
This year the flu shot will protect against H1N1, or the so-called "swine flu" of 2009, plus an H3N2 virus and an influenza B virus. Last year, the H1N1 vaccine was given separately from the seasonal flu vaccine.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted for what it called "universal" flu vaccination. That means everyone 6 months or older should get the shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine. Flu vaccination is not approved for children under 6 months.
Out of about 160 million doses of flu vaccine projected to be manufactured this year, by the end of August, 30 million doses had been distributed, according to an online CDC report.
The CDC said it is "especially important" for six groups of people to get vaccination. They are:
• Pregnant women;
• Children younger than 5 and especially those younger than 2;
• People 50 or older;
• People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions;
• People who live in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes; and
• People who live with or care for people at high risk for flu complications. This group includes health care workers; people with household contact of persons at high risk for flu complications; and household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children under 6 months of age.
Specific for children
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued even more detailed recommendations for the prevention and treatment of flu in children.
• Children 9 or older need only one dose of vaccine.
• Children younger than 9 need a minimum of two doses of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. That means if they did not get an H1N1 vaccine last year, they will need two doses of the three-in-one vaccine this season.
• Children younger than 9 who have never received the seasonal flu vaccine will need two doses this season.
• Children younger than 9 who received seasonal flu vaccine before the 2009-10 flu season need only one dose this year if they received at least one dose of the H1N1 vaccine last year.
• Children younger than 9 who received their first seasonal flu vaccine last year and only got one dose should receive two doses this year.
• When it's not clear whether a child's 2009-10 vaccination was for seasonal flu or H1N1 flu, the child should receive two doses this year.
• All children who need two doses should get the second dose at least four weeks after the first.
Where to go
Besides the health department and your doctor's office, there are many sites offering flu shots. Some offer them daily during regular hours; others are by appointment, a first-come-first-served basis, or one-day clinics. Many of these sites began giving the vaccinations this month; others will do so in October. For locations and times, check the web site addresses of the clinics listed below.
Maxim Health Systems offer one-day clinics next month at many locations, such as the Carnegie Library of Homestead from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 15, and the Penn Hills YMCA from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Oct. 27. To find Maxim clinics near you, go online to findaflushot.com.