SPRINGFIELD – There’s plenty new to talk about when it comes to getting your flu shot and preparing for this year’s flu season.
But before getting to the new, the message this year remains the same – the time to be vaccinated is now.
“While the flu season usually runs from October to May and normally peaks in January or February, it is difficult to predict when the virus will begin to circulate in our area. So, getting your shot early is the best strategy, since it takes one to two weeks after vaccination for your body to make antibodies against the influenza virus,” said
Dr. Sarah Haessler from the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center.
As for the new, those who are allergic to eggs, and who were advised in the past not to get vaccinated, now have a new option. This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it had approved Flublok, the first trivalent influenza vaccine made without eggs in its production. It is approved for those 18-49 years of age.
Each year experts from the FDA, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other public health experts study influenza virus samples and global disease patterns to identify virus strains likely to cause the most illness during the upcoming flu season. As a result, the strains selected for inclusion in the 2013-2014 flu vaccine are identical to last year: A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus, A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus, and B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus.
While the flu vaccine has traditionally provided protection against three strains, this year there will also be a quadrivalent flu vaccine that will protect against four strains, including an additional influenza B virus. It is approved for people 6 months and older.
Seasonal flu vaccine is highly recommended if you want to avoid the flu, and it is especially important for people who are at risk for complications – young children, pregnant women, people 50 years or older, people with diabetes, and heart, lung and kidney disease, and those who live in nursing homes.
Similar to last year, the CDC is recommending that everyone be vaccinated – including those six months and older, unless you are allergic to eggs or your doctor recommends against it because of certain pre-existing conditions.
Also, the CDC says that babies and children ages six months to eight years old will require two shots if it is their first time getting a flu vaccine. However, only one shot is needed if they were vaccinated last year. For those adults 65 and older whose immune systems become weaker with age placing them at greater risk of severe illness from influenza, there is a special high dose vaccine available.
If you have a fear of needles, don’t use that reason to avoid getting a flu shot. According to Dr. Haessler, there is a nasal-spray flu vaccine available for use in most healthy people, ages 2 to 49, who are not pregnant. She said persons with any long-term health problems should check with their physician to be sure it is safe to opt for the nasal spray. All nasal spray vaccines for this season are quadrivalent. There is also an intradermal vaccine with a shorter needle that is not injected into the muscle.
The Baystate infectious disease specialist dispelled two popular fallacies that you can get sick from the flu shot and that you don’t need one again if you were vaccinated last year.
“The flu shot is made from inactivated (dead) virus that cannot give you the flu. Also, protection only lasts for about one year, so you need to be vaccinated every year to raise your immune levels against the flu strains that are circulating in a given year,” said Dr. Haessler.
“ As for the ill effects of the shot, some may experience soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, as well as fever, headache, itching and fatigue. But, most people have no adverse reactions to the flu shot, and life-threatening allergic reactions from vaccines are quite rare,” she added.
Also, according to the CDC, there should be no shortage of flu vaccine this year with manufacturers expected to produce 135-139 million doses of influenza vaccine, with an estimated 30-32 million of these doses being the quadrivalent flu vaccine, with the rest being trivalent flu vaccine.
Cost should also not be a deterrent in getting a flu shot, noted Dr. Haessler. The cost of a flu shot can range upward to $30. However, most insurance companies cover the cost or have a co-pay that can range up to $15. Seniors on Medicare are covered for a flu shot, while Medicaid and CHIP cover influenza vaccine for children who are beneficiaries. For children without health insurance or families who cannot afford the cost of a flu vaccine, there is a federally-funded program called Vaccines for Children (VFC) that provides no-cost vaccines to children under 18 through VFC-enrolled doctors. Veterans enrolled in VA health care are also eligible for free flu shots. There are also periodic free clinics advertised in local newspapers and competitive pricing among some pharmacies, supermarkets and other retailers.
While the flu vaccine is still the single best way to prevent the flu, protection is never 100 percent and some people can get the flu even after being vaccinated.
“The efficacy of the flu vaccine varies from year to year depending upon how well matched the influenza viruses in the vaccine are to those actually circulating in the community,” said Dr. Haessler.
Also, the Baystate infectious disease specialist noted not all providers will be stocking every variation of the influenza vaccine. She said those looking to be vaccinated should check with their primary care physician before making an appointment for their flu shot.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc