Editorial: Give yourself a (flu) shot in the arm

If you’re like most county residents, you still haven’t gotten a vaccination against the H1N1 flu (initially called the “swine flu”). There’s still time and good reason to do so: spending a short time getting one now could save you a lot of time later being sick; it could help prevent a resurgence of the virus later this year; and the shots are free.

The flu was first reported in April in Mexico, from where it spread in the first wave of contagion. In late summer, a second wave spread around the world.

Experts are still concerned about a possible “third wave” of the flu. In historic flu pandemics in 1918-1919 (about 675,000 American deaths) and 1957-1958 (70,000 deaths), flu cases tapered off before roaring back.

The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates H1N1 has sickened over 50 million Americans, killing 12,000 nationwide. State records show 553 deaths attributed to H1NI since its April outbreak, including three in this county.

The disease can be a killer, and the federal Centers for Disease Control recommend vaccination as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu.

Vaccinations for H1N1, the current predominant flu strain, were scarce when they first became available and were limited to high-risk groups. Now, they are readily available for the taking.

Experts recommend those 65 and older make a point of getting a shot, a change from last fall. While they’ll still less likely to contract H1N1 (probably due to having had a similar strain of flu early in life), people in the upper age bracket are more likely to suffer a severe, possibly fatal, illness if they do.

As of January, county officials estimated 90,000 county residents — about one-third of the population — had been vaccinated. That’s a lot, but it still means two-thirds have not been vaccinated.

We won’t go into detail here about misguided concerns expressed by some about dangers from vaccines. The risk incurred by not getting a vaccination is far, far greater than getting one. The H1N1 vaccine is made in the same manner and has proven to be as safe as seasonal flu vaccines given to hundreds of millions of Americans through the decades.

Getting the vaccine is safer than getting the disease.

Take the word of Paso Robles resident Michael Burgos. As reported in The Tribune in February, Burgos, who spent 33 days in intensive care after contracting the H1N1 virus, used to oppose flu vaccinations, but is now firmly in favor of taking the preventive measure.

So, give yourself and public health a shot in the arm. Call the nearest county public health office and make your appointment for a free vaccination. 

Free vaccinations

The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department offers free H1N1 vaccinations. Call one of three clinic locations for an appointment:

Grover Beach Public Health Dept., 286 S. 16th St., Grover Beach, 473-7050

San Luis Obispo Public Health Dept., 2191 Johnson Ave., San Luis Obispo, 781-5500

Paso Robles Public Health Dept., 723 Walnut Drive, Paso Robles, 237-3050 On the web

San Luis Obispo County Public Health Services: www.slocounty.ca.gov/health/publichealth.htm

California Department of Public Health: www.cdph.ca.gov

Federal Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/H1N1FLU

Federal interagency site: flu.gov