ATLANTA — It’s the best time of year to get a flu shot, public health officials say. And for most people, the cost will be zero.
Georgia is already seeing some flu activity. A recent CDC report showed that while the state and the rest of the country have very low numbers of cases, Georgia’s level of influenza-like illness was higher than those of other states.
“We can’t read a whole lot into that [single report] because the numbers are so low,” Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said Thursday. More recent figures on flu activity show Georgia in line with other states, she said.
Nevertheless, she emphasized that with the holidays approaching, “now’s the time to get” a flu shot.
“It takes about two weeks for those antibodies to take hold and give you full protection,” Nydam said.
Flu activity often spikes in late November or early December.
Under the Affordable Care Act, a flu shot is free if you have insurance (though plans that were in place before the law passed, known as grandfathered policies, are exempt from that requirement).
Influenza vaccinations are one of the preventive services that insurers must fully cover without charging you a co-pay or co-insurance – even if you haven’t met your annual deductible yet. Under Medicare, you also pay nothing.
Your vaccine should be free if you choose a health care provider that’s in your plan’s network. Federal officials emphasize you should check with your insurance company before visiting your provider or a pharmacy to get a flu shot.
“Every healthy individual over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine,” said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “It is especially important for the elderly and very young to get a flu shot. And, when given to women during pregnancy, the vaccine has shown to protect both mother and baby up to 6 months old from flu.”
Last year’s flu season was especially severe because the dominant virus, H3N2, changed and was no longer well matched with the vaccine. The vaccine for 2015-2016 does contain the new H3N2 strain, health officials say. While experts say they’re hopeful it is a good match, flu can be very unpredictable.
“Flu viruses are constantly changing, so it’s not unusual for new strains to appear each year,” said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of health protection for Public Health. “Even if the vaccine is not a perfect match, it can still help lessen the severity and length of flu if you do get sick.”
Due to a manufacturing delay, there currently is a nationwide shortage of FluMist, a nasal mist vaccine. Public Health is working to ensure its school-based flu program and other flu clinics have FluMist available, but there may be gaps.
There is, however, no shortage of vaccine for flu shots. You can check availability of flu vaccine near you by clicking on flushot.healthmap.org