NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

More Oklahomans get flu shot after severe flu season last year

More Oklahomans are getting flu shots this year, health officials report. [Metro Creative image]
More Oklahomans are getting flu shots this year, health officials report. [Metro Creative image]

Oklahoma City — It's too early to know whether Oklahoma will face another difficult flu season this year, but reports suggest more people are trying to protect themselves.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 152 people had been hospitalized with complications from flu between Sept. 1 and Dec. 11. Seven people have died. All those who died and nearly two-thirds of those who were hospitalized were 50 or older.

Laurence Burnsed, the interim state epidemiologist, said cases so far have followed a typical pattern of starting out slow in October and picking up in December. How severe the season is will depend on which strains of flu circulate between now and spring, he said.

“Right now, we're kind of on track for what you might call a typical flu season,” he said at a Board of Health meeting on Dec. 11. “I wouldn't say that's an indicator that we're going to see a less-intense year.”

Last year, 292 Oklahomans died and 4,835 were hospitalized due to flu complications. Both deaths and hospitalizations were about double what they had been the winter before, which wasn't a mild year itself, according to data from the Health Department.

So far, an H1N1 strain is the most common flu virus in Oklahoma, and that is one of the strains in the vaccine, Burnsed said. Vaccine manufacturers try to predict which flu strains will circulate months before flu season starts. Sometimes they get it wrong, and the vaccine isn't a good match for the viruses circulating.

The Health Department reports 35,679 people have gotten vaccinated through their local health departments as of Thursday. That's an increase of about 6,000 compared to the same period last year.

Tony Sellars, the Health Department's spokesman, said the state and other agencies have done a better job this year getting out the word that they have flu shots available with no out-of-pocket costs, which likely persuaded more people to get vaccinated.

Vaccination rates were up nationwide in November. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 7 percent more kids and 6 percent more adults had had the shot compared to the same period last year. It remains to be seen whether that pattern will continue, or if some people just got their shots earlier.

More people also have gotten the shot in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department had given out about 5,900 shots as of Dec. 5, which is about 2,000 more than it had at the same time last year, spokesman Ken Johnson said. The clinics don't survey patients about why they got vaccinated, but staff have reported some people said they were getting the shot because last season was severe. Some also said they decided to get vaccinated because they wouldn't have to pay for it, he said.

Megan King, a pharmacist at the Walgreens at 9011 S Pennsylvania, said she also has seen an increase in people seeking the shot, though she couldn't offer specific numbers. Some said they had gotten vaccinated at their doctor's office last year, while a few said they had never gotten a flu shot before, she said.

“I do think that is in part because of how terrible last flu season was,” she said.

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›