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Seasonal Flu Vaccine Available

The UK's Public Health Service is pro jab.

Vaccine for the seasonal flu will be available at the Cayman Islands Hospital, District Health Centres, Faith Hospital and Little Cayman clinic as of Wednesday, October 7, 2009.

Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kiran Kumar says there will be two types of vaccine offered this year: one for the season flu (regular flu) and the other for the 2009 H1N1 flu.

Dr. Kumar emphasizes that the seasonal flu vaccine will not provide protection against the 2009 H1N1 flu and that the H1N1 vaccine is expected to become available in the Cayman Islands in late October or November.

The regular flu vaccine will be available at:

  • The General Practice Clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital, Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac and all District Health Centres, from 2:00 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

  • Little Cayman Clinic. Residents of Little Cayman should contact the clinic to make arrangements.

The flu vaccine is FREE to all residents. No appointments are necessary, however persons should indicate to the registration officer at the clinic that they need to have the flu shot.

"We recommend that people get vaccinated as soon as possible and definitely before the peak of the flu season which ranges between December and January," Dr. Kumar says.

Dr. Kumar further advises that the vaccine is only effective for one season. Therefore, people at high risk for complications from influenza and those who live with or care for high-risk persons should be vaccinated early each year. To ensure that these groups are protected the flu vaccine will offered to the following priority groups from October 7 to 20:

  • Young children 6 months to four years of age

  • Pregnant women (with prescription from Obstetrician)

  • People 65 years of age and older

  • Persons of any age with weakened immune systems and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart, kidney and lung diseases and diabetes.

  • People living in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

From October 21st, until supplies have been exhausted, the vaccine will be available to the general public.

"To minimize workplace disruption and ensure that as many persons as possible get vaccinated, I am also pleased to announce that our Public Health Department will continue our program of onsite workplace vaccination initiative for companies with ten or more employees wishing to have the vaccine" says Dr. Kumar. Companies interested in the program should contact the Public Health Department at 244-2648 to register.

Who Should Get Vaccinated

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting seasonal flu can get a seasonal influenza vaccine. However, it is recommended that certain people should get vaccinated each year. They are either people who are at high risk of having serious seasonal flu-related complications or people who live with or care for those at high risk for serious seasonal flu-related complications. Priority groups to get the seasonal vaccine each year are:

  • Young children 6 months to 4 years of age

  • Pregnant women

  • People 65 years of age and older

  • Persons of any age over 6 months with weakened immune systems and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart, kidney and lung diseases and diabetes.

  • People living in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including: health care workers; household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu; and household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)

  • Children five to 18 years of age and persons 50-65 years of age

  • Persons who provide essential services and those living in correctional facilities.

  • Anyone who wishes to have the flu vaccine

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated

The following persons should not be vaccinated without first consulting their physician:

  • People who have severe allergy to chicken or chicken eggs

  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past

  • People who developed Guillian-Barre' syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting a vaccine previously.

  • People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated.

What kind of flu vaccine is available?

The "flu shot" is administered in the Cayman Islands with a needle, usually in the arm. The vaccine is approved for use among people 6 months of age or older, including healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease

The seasonal influenza vaccine contains - one A (H3N2) virus, one A (H1N1) virus (not the 2009 H1N1 virus), and one B virus.

Initial doses of 2009 H1N1 vaccine are expected to be available later in October or November. This 2009 H1N1 vaccine is not intended to replace the seasonal flu vaccine - it is intended to be used along-side seasonal flu vaccine.

How do flu vaccines work?

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.

Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?

Influenza is a serious disease, and people of any age can get it. The flu season is usually from November through April each year. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and lessen the chance that you will transmit to others.

When should I get a flu vaccination?

The H.S.A recommends that people get their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as the vaccine becomes available. Vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest.

Once you get vaccinated, your body makes protective antibodies in about two weeks. However, children aged 6 months to 8 years who are being vaccinated for the first time need a second dose 4 weeks later in order to be protected.

Does flu vaccine work right away?

No. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. That's why it's better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season really gets under way.

Can I get seasonal flu even though I got a flu vaccine this year?

Yes. The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends on two things: 1) the age and health status of the person getting vaccinated, and 2) the similarity or "match" between the virus strains in the vaccine and those circulating in the community. If the viruses in the vaccine and the influenza viruses circulating in the community are closely matched, vaccine effectiveness is higher. If they are not closely matched, vaccine effectiveness can be reduced. However, it's important to remember that even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications. Such protection is possible because antibodies made in response to the vaccine can provide some protection (called cross-protection) against different, but related strains of influenza viruses.

Why do I need to get vaccinated against the flu every year?

Flu viruses change from year to year, which means two things. First, you can get the flu more than once during your lifetime. The immunity (natural protection that develops against a disease after a person has had that disease) that is built up from having the flu caused by one virus strain doesn't always provide protection when a new strain is circulating. Second, a vaccine made against flu viruses circulating last year may not protect against the newer viruses. That is why the influenza vaccine is updated to include current viruses every year.

Another reason to get flu vaccine every year is that after you get vaccinated your immunity declines over time and may be too low to provide protection after a year.

What are the risks from getting a flu shot?

The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The risk of a flu shot causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. However, a vaccine, like any medicine, may rarely cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.

What are the side effects that could occur?

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given

  • Fever (low grade)

  • Aches

If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last one to two days.

Can severe problems occur?

  • Life-threatening allergic reactions are very rare. Signs of serious allergic reaction can include breathing problems, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat, or dizziness. If they do occur, it is within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. These reactions are more likely to occur among persons with a severe allergy to eggs, because the viruses used in the influenza vaccine are grown in hens' eggs. People who have had a severe reaction to eggs or to a flu shot in the past should not get a flu shot before seeing a physician.

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: Normally, about one person per 100,000 people per year will develop Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), an illness characterized by fever, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. In 1976, vaccination with the swine flu vaccine was associated with getting GBS. Several studies have been done to evaluate if other flu vaccines since 1976 were associated with GBS. Only one of the studies showed an association. That study suggested that one person out of 1 million vaccinated persons may be at risk of GBS associated with the vaccine.

What should I do if I have a serious reaction to seasonal influenza vaccine?

  • See medical attention right away.

  • Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when you got the flu shot.

Can the flu shot give me the flu?

No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The viruses contained in flu shots are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection.

Why do some people not feel well after getting the flu shot?

The most common side effect of the flu vaccine in adults is soreness at the spot where the shot was given, which usually lasts less than two days. The soreness is often caused by a person's immune system making protective antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine. These antibodies are what allow the body to fight against flu. The needle stick may also cause some soreness at the injection site. Rare symptoms include fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness. If these problems occur, they are very uncommon and usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days.

What about people who get a seasonal flu vaccine and still get sick with flu-like symptoms?

There are several reasons why someone might get flu-like symptoms even after they have been vaccinated against the flu.

  1. People may be exposed to an influenza virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect them.

  2. People may become ill from other (non-flu) viruses that circulate during the flu season, which can also cause flu-like symptoms (such as rhinovirus).

  3. A person may be exposed to an influenza virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different influenza viruses and this year there is a new and very different flu virus spreading worldwide among people called 2009 H1N1 flu.

  4. Unfortunately, some people can remain unprotected from flu despite getting the vaccine. This is more likely to occur among people that have weakened immune systems. However, even among people with weakened immune systems, the flu vaccine can still help prevent influenza complications.

Will the season flu vaccine protect against H1N1?

No. The seasonal flu vaccine will not provide protection against 2009 H1N1 flu. This year there is also a 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine. The 2009 H1N1 flu is not intended to replace the seasonal flu vaccine - it is intended to be used along-side seasonal flu vaccine.

Seasonal influenza vaccine provides the best protection available from seasonal flu - even when the vaccine does not closely match circulating flu strains, and even when the person getting the vaccine has a weakened immune system. Vaccination can lessen illness severity and is particularly important for people at high risk for serious flu-related complications and for close contacts of high-risk people.

Can the seasonal vaccine and the 2009 H1N1 vaccine be given at the same time?

Yes. They can be given on the same day. However, whilst stocks of the seasonal flu vaccine are currently available in the Cayman Islands, through the Public Health Department and District Health Centres, supplies of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine are not expected until late October or November. The usual seasonal flu virus is still expected to cause illness during the winter.

For more information please contact:

Public Health Clinic at 244-2648

The General Practice Unit at 244-2800

Faith Hospital at 948-2243

Little Cayman Clinic at 948-0114

The District Health Centres:

  • East End at 947-7440

  • North Side at 947-9525

  • West Bay at 949-3439

  • Bodden Town at 947-2299