WASHINGTON – More Marylanders are getting their shots for this flu season, which federal officials say has begun earlier than usual and could be the worst in years.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed the first flu case in the state last week, in a Baltimore City teenager. The city has already given out nearly 3,000 shots, as much as it did during the entire season last year, said Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson.
But even in areas without confirmed flu cases, people are lining up for their shots, according to health officials around the state. Some who normally do not get a flu shot have been driven by memories of past flu epidemics to get vaccinated this year, one official said.
Ashley Conway of the Calvert County Health Department said people come to her department saying, “Last time I got (the flu) I thought I was going to die.”
A high proportion of the flu this year is of a strain that tends to bring more deaths and more people to the hospital, according to Julie Gerberdering, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many states already have had widespread flu infection, which most often peaks during the winter.
But officials in Maryland said people do not appear to be waiting for the peak of the season. Many seek a vaccine as soon as they can.
“There’s just a whole lot more media information out there to encourage people to get the flu vaccine and get it early,” said Faye Grillo, deputy health officer of Charles County.
Grillo foresees having more people come for flu shots this year than last. The county has already had to bring an extra nurse to the department that administers the shots, she said.
The Frederick County Health Department has already given out more than 4,000 shots, compared to fewer than 3,200 at the same time last year, said spokeswoman Cindy Bowers.
At its first clinic this year, which is usually the largest, 1,800 people came out for shots, Bowers said. The county has another flu clinic scheduled for Dec. 5.
Conway said Calvert County has seen about 10 percent more people than last year, she said, and she expects the Baltimore case might bring even more people in to the clinics now.
Not every county has surpassed last year’s totals, but they are closing in.
Carroll County, which gave out about 7,000 shots last year, had fewer than 6,000 as of last week, the county’s Debbie Middleton said. But she noted that the weather was warm and the media did not hype the upcoming flu season earlier in the fall. That has changed over the last couple of weeks, she said, especially after the Baltimore City case.
Ironically, some of the biggest vaccination turnouts came two years ago when people heard about a vaccine shortage, other county health officials said.
Health departments continue to urge residents to get flu shots as soon as possible, and note that they can receive them throughout the season.
“It is not too late,” Conway said.