We might be headed for our third bad flu season in a row. As Heather Stauffer wrote in a Sept. 24 article on LancasterOnline, “The last two flu seasons have been notable — this past one unusually long, the previous one particularly bad — and the coming one is looking troublesome too.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months and older, with rare exceptions.
Getting an annual flu shot should be like clockwork for us, as automatic as the annual pumpkin spice hype but much more important. When the calendar flips to October, the flu shot should be a high priority for everyone.
We already know this could be another deadly season for the flu. “That’s because countries below the equator see flu about six months before the U.S. does, and they’ve had a worse-than-usual season, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health,” Stauffer notes.
The statistics from the past two flu seasons are sobering.
In 2017-18: 12 deaths and 4,570 confirmed cases in Lancaster County; 258 deaths and 122,030 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania.
In 2018-19: Seven deaths and 2,355 confirmed cases in Lancaster County; 157 deaths and 98,453 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania.
The actual statistics are likely much higher, because many who get the flu aren’t tested. And Stauffer adds this: “Adult flu deaths aren’t traced consistently nationwide, but child flu deaths are. CDC shows 135 nationwide last season, and it estimates that 80% of flu-associated deaths in children are among the unvaccinated.”
A flu shot can save your life. Or a child’s life.
Last year, in imploring everyone to get a flu shot, we shared the story of a healthy 39-year-old Missouri man who spent 58 days in the hospital — including more than a week in a medically induced coma — after getting the flu. And we shared the story of another young woman’s harrowing ordeal: “I was super healthy one day, and then I had flu. Then pneumonia and sepsis. I spent weeks in a delusional state, my kidneys started shutting down, and I nearly died.”
Both survived, and made it their mission to convince everyone to get a flu shot.
We stand with them. Following any necessary checks with your doctor, get a flu shot as soon as possible — and certainly by the end of this month. (Though if the calendar flips to November and you haven’t gotten a flu shot, please still go get one. Late is better than never.)
“It is heart-wrenching to see patients suffer and die from a disease for which we know the vaccine will either prevent or at least lessen the severity of the infection in the vast majority of people,” Dr. Joseph Kontra, Lancaster General Hospital’s chief of infectious diseases, told LNP last year.
Most health insurance plans provide free flu shots if they are administered at the doctor’s office.
Many pharmacies also offer them without an appointment, generally charging only if your insurance doesn’t cover the shot.
Stauffer writes that the uninsured or underinsured can also call 1-877-PA-HEALTH for flu vaccine appointments at the county’s State Health Center at 1661 Old Philadelphia Pike in East Lampeter Township.
An additional resource: The CDC website includes a Flu Vaccine Finder (bit.ly/FluShotFinder2) that allows you to locate nearby flu shot clinics, using your ZIP code.
A flu shot won’t necessarily keep you from getting the flu, but “the CDC estimates flu vaccine effectiveness at preventing illness severe enough to send someone to the doctor’s office at 47% in 2018-19 and ... it also says vaccinated people are less likely to become severely ill and need to be hospitalized,” Stauffer writes.
Those who get flu shots are also helping to protect those around them. We love repeating this bit of wisdom from pediatric nurse Kelly Maynard, writing on the Minnesota Star Tribune’s website: “If you choose to be part of a community — to socialize with and interact with and do business with and breathe the same air as the rest of us — it is a reasonable expectation for you to get a flu shot.”
That’s what we are in Lancaster — a community. Flu shots help us look out for ourselves and each other.
Register to vote
We’re going to keep reminding you about this, too.
Pennsylvania’s Election Day is Nov. 5, but the last day you can register to vote for this election is Monday.
Participation in our democracy is essential. Everyone who is eligible in Lancaster County should make sure to be registered by that deadline. And who is eligible? Here are the guidelines:
— You must be at least 18 years old on or before Nov. 5.
— You must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of Pennsylvania and your election district for at least 30 days before Nov. 5.
Those who still need to register have several options:
— Go online to register.votesPA.com. (Have your Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID card handy. If you have any questions as you navigate the online form, you can call 877-VOTESPA or 877-868-3772.)
— Blank voter registration forms can also be printed from that website. If you have friends or neighbors who can’t get online, you can provide them with these forms, which can then be completed and mailed. If mailed, they must be postmarked by Monday.
— Register in person at the Lancaster County Voter Registration Office, located in Suite 117 at 150 N. Queen St. in Lancaster, or at any PennDOT photo license center while applying for or renewing your driver’s license.