'It's never too early but it's also never too late': Health professionals encourage flu vaccine as winter, holiday season approaches

NOW: ’It’s never too early but it’s also never too late’: Health professionals encourage flu vaccine as winter, holiday season approaches

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As the temperatures continue to fall and the holiday and winter seasons fast approach, experts at UW Health are reminding Wisconsinites to roll up their sleeves for the flu season.

"As soon as people can make themselves available and can make an appointment to get the flu vaccine, now is the time to do it," advised Dr. Jim Conway, medical director of the immunization programs at UW Health. "We already have influenza cases in the community and it's already starting to circulate."

Conway says the Covid-19 pandemic has made more and more people aware about the importance of vaccination. It's also helped medical professionals share the right messaging when it comes to encouraging vaccines.

"We've finally got the right messaging as we learn from the pandemic that influenza should be considered in the same way," Conway said. "Yes, it's great if it protects you from actually getting sick, but most importantly, it protects everybody from getting serious illness and from being able to transmit it to other people who may be very vulnerable and may not get full protection from the vaccine."

According to Conway, health professionals here in the United States will monitor countries in the southern hemisphere, which experiences winter while we experience summer, to get a better understanding of how the upcoming flu season and the impact it might have.

"The best data we get is often from Australia and New Zealand, who do really, really good epidemiologic tracking," Conway said. "I wouldn't say it's been a ferocious season, but it certainly hasn't been mild."

Changes are made yearly to the flu vaccine to help target strains. According to a report from the CDC, data from South America shows that the flu shot helped decrease severe disease, stating "the 2023 Southern Hemisphere seasonal influenza vaccine reduced the risk for influenza-associated hospitalizations by 52%." The full report can be read here.

Conway says the findings from the southern hemisphere magnify the importance of doubling down on the messaging that people should be getting their flu shots, staying home when they're sick and utilizing other practices learned during the pandemic, including masking up when sick, to help make sure you're not exposing others to illness.

"Making sure you're coughing away from people or covering your cough. Making sure you're washing your hands. All those simple things that we used to be told to do by grandma actually really do work and we've learned that they really are effective," Conway said. "I think everybody remembers really bad flu seasons, really bad cold and cough seasons. Those aren't necessary. We don't have to live with all that if we kind of do the same things on a consistent basis."

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