Flu file photo

Levone Enevold gets a flu shot from Katie Hiller in the community room at River Hills Mall in fall 2017. Health officials say September, although it’s not within the traditional flu season, is not too early to receive a vaccination.

MANKATO — As influenza season nears, vaccines are becoming increasingly available at area retailers.

Flu season typically stretches from October to May, although vaccines matching the anticipated strains come out around September.

Health professionals say receiving a vaccine this early will still reduce your chances of getting the flu for the entirety of the season.

“It’s better to get it earlier in the year because it takes at least a week to kick in and take effect,” said Jairus McBride, pharmacy manager at downtown Hy-Vee in Mankato.

So a vaccine now should provide a degree of protection by the time cases start ramping up in October. With children and older adults more vulnerable to the flu, McBride encouraged them in particular to receive vaccinations now. A high-dose vaccine is available for people 65 and older.

“As long as the patient who is 65 and older receives a high dose, it has been shown to last the whole season,” McBride said.

Since Hy-Vee got the vaccines in stock, he said he’s seen a steady amount of interest among shoppers. Ron Grothe, pharmacist and owner at Le Sueur’s Corner Drug Health Mart, said he expects this season’s vaccines to arrive any day now at his store.

He’s already seen people seek them out at the store and expects the usual rush of people coming in to get them once they arrive. He said those patients know they don’t have to wait for flu season to get vaccinated.

“It’s important for patients to know they can get them any time,” he said. “Early is fine, even though we’re not in the flu season per se in September.”

Last flu season was relatively mild compared to the severe 2017-2018 and 2016-2017 years. After 6,446 flu hospitalizations and 440 deaths in the previous season, 2018-2019 had just 2,543 hospitalizations and 95 deaths, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s final update from last season.

South-central Minnesota accounted for 172 of the hospitalizations, with no huge outbreaks reported. High vaccination rates at nursing homes help prevent outbreaks among the most vulnerable.

Flu season severity is partly dependent on how closely a vaccine matches the strains circulating around the country. McBride said even if vaccines can’t prevent the flu entirely, they lessen the severity of symptoms.

“There are so many variants of the virus, however, the symptoms will be less devastating,” he said.

Health insurance plans usually cover flu vaccines, but discounts are also available at some retailers for those without insurance.

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