Aug. 12, 2010 -- It may still be late summer, but this year's flu vaccine already is arriving -- and the CDC wants you to get yours right away.
That "you" means "everybody." For the first time, the seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for all men, women -- including pregnant women -- and children over age 6 months. Exceptions include only those allergic to eggs or those with other health issues that make vaccination unwise.
And there will be plenty of vaccine out there. Manufacturers tell the CDC they'll have 170 million doses on hand. They've already begun shipping the vaccine across the nation.
No, this isn't about the H1N1 swine flu. That U.S. emergency ended in June, and the World Health Organization this week called off its pandemic alert. This time it's about seasonal flu, joined but no longer dominated by the 2009 H1N1 swine flu.
Most of us don't even think about getting our flu shots until we've put away our Halloween costumes and have begun to grumble about how malls start decorating for Christmas even before Thanksgiving.
But the CDC this month issued its first flu health advisory of the 2010-2011 season. It warned that the H3N2 flu bug has begun popping up in states across the U.S., including two unrelated outbreaks in Iowa among a college sports team and a day care center.
Children are infamous for catching and spreading the flu, and the school year is already under way in parts of the U.S. The CDC is asking doctors to be on the lookout for flu.
In September, the CDC will unveil its new "Flu Ends with U" vaccination campaign, even though its National Vaccination Week won't start until Dec. 5.
The vaccination campaign faces serious obstacles. In 64 focus groups held in six U.S. cities, the CDC learned:
People think they know about the flu and the flu vaccine. But myths are common, especially the old "I got the vaccine and it gave me the flu" myth -- which is medically impossible for flu shots (no live virus) or the intranasal flu sniff (weakened live virus that cannot grow in the lungs, although it may briefly cause mild flu-like symptoms).
The inclusion of the 2009 H1N1 swine flu vaccine worries rather than reassures. Even though the vaccine underwent the most intense safety testing ever, many still fear the vaccine is more dangerous and unpredictable than the flu itself.
Many people were skeptical of the new, universal vaccination recommendation.
People who got their 2009 H1N1 flu shots during the pandemic may wrongly think they are immune (flu shots typically protect for only six to eight months).
People would be much more likely to get their flu shots if their health-care provider -- or friends working in health care -- told them it was a good thing.
That's why this year the CDC will reach out to health care workers, especially obstetricians. But the public will get an earful, too, pregnant women in particular.
The theme will be a call to action -- the need to protect ourselves, of course, but more importantly the need to protect others. Infants and the elderly are at high risk of severe flu disease and death, and they usually get infected by someone who wasn't vaccinated.
"This season, protect yourself -- and those around you -- by getting a flu vaccine," the message will state.