Flu season is here, and Lyster Army Health Clinic officials and Fort Rucker leadership encourage everyone to get ready to get their influenza vaccinations.

While flu shots are available now at the clinic for those 6-35 months old and also those 65 years and older, the rest of the population will need to wait until around mid-November to get vaccinated because of limited availability of the vaccines, according to Maj. Dorma Sanders, chief of the Department of Public Health at Lyster Army Health Clinic.

"As it stands, we're looking to begin giving flu shots to Soldiers Nov. 12-16, and then opening the vaccines up to the public Nov. 18," Sanders said, adding that the shots are mandatory for Soldiers and highly encouraged for other beneficiaries, such as family members and retirees.

To get the shots, beneficiaries can drop in at the immunization clinic during its normal operating hours, Mondays-Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., or can get them while at regular appointment with their health care providers, Sanders said.

Additionally, the flu shot will be available to those 65 and older at the upcoming retiree health fair Oct. 25 from 8 a.m. to noon at Yano Hall, she added.

And the more people within the community who get flu shots the more people are protected from spreading the virus, Sanders said.

"Our vulnerable population -- the very young, the very old and those who are immunocompromised -- are the individuals who are at highest risk for complications as a result of contracting the flu virus," she said. "Those complications to the individual can be devastating -- it can turn very serious very quickly for those populations because their immune systems aren't as strong as those within members of the general public. Everything that we can do to protect our loved ones in the community benefits everyone in the long run."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the 2017-18 flu season there were an estimated 49 million people contracting flu illnesses, 960,000 people were hospitalized and 79,000 died.

But even with similarly sobering numbers year after year each flu season, there are always holdouts against getting the flu shot, with many claiming they either get the flu from the shot or they get the flu despite getting vaccinated.

"We get that a lot," Sanders said. "There has been no evidence that getting the shot gives you the flu. It can make you feel a little under the weather because, although it's very weak, we're still introducing it into your system and because of that your body will mount a defense that can make you feel not so great. But it does not give you the flu."

People can, though, get the flu shot and still get the flu for a number of reasons, including coming into contact with an infected person prior to getting vaccinated, she said, adding that it can take up to a week for the shot to work through a person's system to where the body is able to mount a response. People might also catch a strain of the virus not included in the vaccine.

Either way, though, it's better to have the shot than to not have it since the flu vaccine lessens people's chances of having complications from the flu, Sanders said. "If an able bodied person gets the flu and also gets the vaccine, they won't be as sick as someone who didn't get the vaccine. They may not feel very well, they may have a low-grade fever, but they will probably feel better within four to five days, whereas someone who doesn't get the flu shot will be down a week or more and will have more severe symptoms."

Above and beyond getting the flu shot, Sanders said people should wash their hands regularly to avoid getting sick.

"That is the No. 1 key to prevention. If you're somewhere where washing your hands isn't possible, hand sanitizer works great, too," she said, adding that people should also sneeze into the crease of their arm instead of into their hands to help avoid spreading illnesses.

For more information on Fort Rucker's flu shot program, contact your health provider. For more on the 2019-20 flu season, visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2019-2020.htm.