AUBURN — With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considering the flu to be widespread in Alabama, health care officials are encouraging people to get a flu shot, if they have not already done so.

Students in Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy are spreading awareness of the virus and the importance of immunization through programs like the American Pharmacists Association Operation Immunization.

“By getting the flu shot, we are protecting both ourselves and others in the community,” said Holly Clark, a member of the pharmacy school’s Class of 2021. “By promoting widespread vaccination, we are able to prevent diseases from affecting those who are not able to be vaccinated themselves, a practice called herd immunity.”

Receiving the vaccine is particularly important for children, those whose immune system may be compromised, such as cancer patients, those with HIV/AIDs, or recent transplant recipients, and those with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, severe obesity and lung disease like asthma or COPD.

“Everyone over 6 months old should get a flu shot,” said Alexandra Steege, a member of the Class of 2021. “Your pharmacist is easy to reach and ready to help, so reach out to them if you need more information.”

The vaccine varies from year to year, depending on the strains that are most prevalent.

The vaccine is an inactivated influenza virus that induces specific antibody production in your body to fight off the virus when you are exposed or before you know you have been exposed. Because the strains vary, people should get the vaccination every year.

There are also some common misconceptions about the flu vaccine. Contrary to some opinions, it is never too late to get the vaccine. The vaccine also does not cause the flu or other conditions, such as autism.

“The flu vaccine does not cause the flu, but you should stay away from people with the flu for two weeks after your flu shot, or you may get the flu because your immunity is not built up yet,” said Steege.

“And pregnant women should get the flu vaccine even more than non-pregnant women because complications of the flu virus can be more severe," said Steege. "Talk to your pharmacist if you have any more questions.”

The vaccine is available at most pharmacies and physician’s offices. Many insurance carriers, including Medicaid and Medicare, typically cover the cost of the immunization. Pharmacies will typically work with your insurance provider and may even offer incentives, such as gift cards.

The pharmacist can answer questions about insurance coverage and the availability of the immunization.

For more information, go to the websites of the Alabama Department of Public Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Matt Crouch, who is with the Harrison School of Pharmacy, can be reached by email at mcrouch@auburn.edu.

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