Wintertime has arrived in Vermont, and so has flu season. With cases already reported in the state, health officials are urging Vermonters to get their annual flu vaccine.

“Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect ourselves from the flu,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “When we all take this one simple step, we do more than just protect ourselves – we help keep the people around us healthy and safe from potentially deadly flu complications.”

Flu is more than just a bad cold. It can be a dangerous illness for anyone, but it can be especially harmful for babies who are too young for the vaccine, older adults, pregnant women, and people who have chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease, or a weakened immune system. Anyone at risk of complications from flu should talk with their health care provider. Older adults can receive flu vaccines that are specially designed for people age 65 and older.

Flu caused nearly 80,000 deaths and more than 950,000 hospitalizations around the country last season, the highest numbers in decades, according to recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Vermont, nearly 40 deaths had flu as an underlying cause. The decrease in the number of people getting an annual flu shot may be contributing to more people getting the flu.

“I’m very concerned about our vaccination rates for flu, especially among young children, which dropped 4 percent last year alone,” Levine said. “If we don’t get vaccinated, we are needlessly putting ourselves at risk of serious illness, but we are also gambling with the health of children and others around us who can’t get vaccinated. For some, their lives depend on the rest of us taking responsibility.”

Of the 180 pediatric deaths reported in the U.S. last season, 80 percent occurred in children who had not had a flu shot.

The flu vaccine takes two weeks to become fully effective, so now is the time to get your flu shot. And do it with confidence – the vaccine is safe, you can’t get flu from the vaccine.

More than 300 sites in Vermont offer flu vaccine, including supermarkets, pharmacies and health care providers. Dial 2-1-1 or visit healthvermont.gov/flu and use the Flu Vaccine Finder to find a nearby place to get a flu shot.

If you do get sick, take steps to keep the flu from spreading: Stay home from work or school until you no longer have a fever or symptoms. Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue. Wash your hands often with soap and water.

Learn more about flu: Prevention tips and vaccine information, videos and posters in multiple languages: healthvermont.gov/flu. Outbreak management resources for long-term care facilities, K-12 schools and child care facilities: healthvermont.gov/fluoutbreak. And flu activity and surveillance: cdc.gov/flu.

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