Department of Public Health Announces Actions to Increase Access to Flu Shots and Promote Awareness
Flu vaccines widely available in communities across Massachusetts
BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced actions to increase access to flu vaccines and promote awareness across the state, including distributing 760,000 free flu vaccines to date, working with boards of health to offer additional public flu clinics, and increasing flu education opportunities in schools.
“Getting vaccinated is the single most effective way to protect against the flu,” said DPH interim Commissioner Dr. Lauren Smith. “The good news is flu vaccines are widely available, and it’s absolutely not too late to get a flu shot in order to protect yourself and your loved ones.”
760,000 Free Flu Vaccines Distributed
DPH has distributed more than 760,000 doses of pediatric and adult flu vaccine to date to clinical providers and public sites, including local boards of health, community health centers, Visiting Nurse Associations and homeless shelters this flu season.
Additional Public Flu Clinics Offered
DPH is working with all local boards of health to help them offer additional public flu clinics in their communities in anticipation of expanded demand for vaccinations. DPH is assisting in ensuring vaccines are available, providing forms and informational materials in multiple languages and providing technical assistance to support insurance reimbursement for vaccine.
Governor Signs Bill to Increase Flu Education in Schools
Governor Deval Patrick this week signed House Bill 3948, “An Act Relative to Annual Immunization Against Influenza for Children”. Under the new law, DPH will create regulations to require early childhood education, elementary, and secondary schools to provide information to parents on the benefits of annual influenza immunization for children. Immunizing children against flu protects the child and also provides added protection for family member and other close contacts. These steps will expand the number of children vaccinated against the flu in future years.
This is the strongest flu season nationally and in Massachusetts in several years. The latest statewide data shows that rates of flu-like illness are on the rise in Massachusetts, earlier in the flu season than in recent years.
The most recent weekly flu report shows that there have been more than 6,000 laboratory confirmed cases of flu in Massachusetts. Participating health care providers indicated that more than 4% of all office visits consist of patients reporting flu symptoms. Flu can be unpredictable, however, and it is too soon to tell if flu rates will continue to rise or have reached their peak.
Nationally, anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 influenza deaths are estimated to occur each year, varying with the severity of the season.
Flu vaccines are readily available in health care and pharmacy settings across Massachusetts. Residents are encouraged to contact their health care provider, community health center, or local pharmacy to get vaccinated. If a local clinic does not have vaccines available, check with a nearby provider or pharmacy as supplies are ample statewide.
“This year’s flu vaccine has shown to be a particularly effective match against the dominant strains of influenza currently circulating, and vaccine supplies are ample,” said interim Commissioner Smith.
The Department has also worked closely with schools to prepare for flu season by distributing school-based vaccination toolkits, surveying school nurses on the impact of flu and using that data to inform the development of additional resources, and providing technical assistance and support to school leaders in conjunction with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
DPH continues to partner with the Massachusetts Hospital Association, Massachusetts Senior Care Federation and a wide range of hospitals, community health centers, long-term care providers and other health care providers on policies and best practices to limit the spread of flu within their facilities.
Besides getting vaccinated, there are other steps that individuals can take to prevent the spread of flu. These include frequent hand washing with soap and warm water, covering a cough or sneeze with a sleeve rather than the hands, and staying home from work or school if sick. DPH is also providing an informational resource for individuals who are caring for someone sick with the flu at home. Flu: What You Can Do — Caring for People at Home is available at no cost in nine languages, as an online download or as a hard copy brochure from the Massachusetts Health Promotion Clearinghouse.
More information on flu is available at www.mass.gov/flu.