OKLAHOMA CITY – Some health officials are already forecasting a bad flu season.

Health officials, meanwhile, are urging Oklahomans to get their flu shots as soon as possible.

While the severity of flu season is hard to predict, Integris Health officials said in an email that “some experts are already forecasting a bad year.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports already are showing a spike in the number of new flu cases, Integris officials said.

Some expect the flu to be bad this year because the southern hemisphere is experiencing an active season with the H3N2 strain, which causes particularly severe symptoms, Integris officials said. The southern hemisphere’s influenza activity is seen as an indicator of what’s heading to the United States, Integris officials said.

This year’s flu vaccine contains the H3N2 strain, health officials said.

“Last year’s vaccine was only about 30 percent effective, so I know there are a lot of people out there saying the flu shot doesn’t work,” said Dr. Tommy Ibrahim, the chief physician executive at Integris, in a statement. “But I like to compare it to wearing your seat belt. You might still get hurt if you have an accident, but chances are you won’t be injured as badly as you would have if you had not been wearing a seat belt. The same thing goes with the flu shot.”

Thus far, Oklahoma State Department of Health spokesman Tony Sellars said Oklahoma’s flu numbers aren’t out of the ordinary from what officials usually see.

He said officials will not know how severe flu season is until around January 2020. Flu season runs from October until April, but usually peaks between December and February.

Sellars said it’s also too early to know how effective the vaccine will be.

Still, he said health officials are urging everyone to get vaccinated. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so most health care providers are urging people to get inoculated now.

“Even if you get the flu, having the vaccine and the extra protection is going to lessen your symptoms,” he said.

Twenty-one county health department locations across the state are in the midst of statewide flu pandemic drills this week. All will offer flu shots at no out-of-pocket expense during the drills, Sellars said.

“This is an opportunity for us to practice working with our local, state and federal partners to respond as we would in the event of an emergency or disaster,” said Scott Sproat, the agency’s director of emergency preparedness and response service, in a statement. “Being able to provide flu shots to the public is an added bonus.”

County health departments, with the exception of Tulsa County, will continue to offer flu shots at no out-of-pocket cost through the rest flu season, Sellars said.

“We started (that program) last year so we could reach more people,” he said. “It did increase our numbers.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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