By Michael Davis

As flu season approaches, people all over Clayton and Henry counties are making plans to get vaccinated.

"Just as soon as I can get an appointment to get one, I will," said Virginia Martin of Hampton. Martin and her husband Rader have been getting the flu shot for three years now and say they have not fallen victim to the ailment.

"I had it before I had the shot," Virginia Martin said, "but not since I started getting it."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this year's flu vaccination will be available nationwide starting in October and local health departments are encouraging everyone to be immunized, especially those at high risk for contracting influenza.

And with around 85.5 million doses ready, there will be plenty to go around.

"The first round of flu shots we get need to go to high risk patients," said Alcenia Coleman, Nurse Manager for the Henry County Health Department.

At-risk patients are described as anyone with respiratory problems, immune system deficiencies, children and the elderly, generally the hardest hit by the flu.

"The older a person is, the more the risk is," said Freda Sheppard, immunization coordinator for the Clayton County Board of Health.

The Clayton County will be offering the shot at its Forest Park branch starting Wednesday Oct. 1 and Henry County Health Department will be offering it at the McDonough office starting Oct. 2.

"There's a plentiful supply of the flu vaccine this year," said Sheppard. "And this year, we're encouraging everyone to get vaccinated. This day and time, you never know who you're going to come in contact with," she said.

Sheppard said that Clayton County plans to have over 5,000 doses ready to cover the flu season, which usually spans December to March. Henry County will also be offering a pneumonia immunization at a cost of $20. Henry has almost 5200 doses of those combined.

Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the CDC said the severity of the upcoming flu season is difficult to predict.

"We've had two very mild seasons in a row and it's very rare that you have three," he said.

Though he said in the past, cases of influenza don't surface until January or February, he encouraged people to get vaccinated as early as October and November.

The vaccine "takes about two weeks to be effective," he said. "But into December or January it's not too late as long as the season hasn't begun."

Healthcare workers say that there can be slight side effects of the flu shot, including soreness in the area of the shot, low fevers and feelings of exhaustion. But they say the benefits of the vaccination far outweigh the side effects.

"Some people have received flu-like symptoms but they usually only last for two to three days," Coleman said.

Depending on when a person is vaccinated, they will be protected at least until the end of the flu season, she said.