Flu vaccine options: What’s right for you?
Signs like this one are already up at local pharmacies: “Flu Vaccine Available Here!” Indeed, flu season is right around the corner.
As you prepare for winter by cutting back the perennials, shutting down your irrigation system, and laying in a supply of firewood, don’t forget to add getting vaccinated against the seasonal flu to that to-do list.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, manufacturers have begun shipping flu vaccines and more than 135 million doses are being produced, so ample supplies should be available this year. The main vaccine being produced for this season will protect against three types of flu – influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus and influenza B virus – the ones that researchers expect to be most prevalent this year.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older receive the flu vaccine in the early fall. Individuals considered to be at higher risk for having flu-related complications are people 65 and older, children younger than 5, pregnant women and people with certain chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. Health-care workers, while not clinically at higher risk for complications associated with the flu, should get the vaccine for their own well-being and to protect their patients. At Southwest Health System and at most other hospitals across the country, the seasonal flu vaccine is now mandatory, even for employees who do not engage in direct patient care.
Southwest Health System’s infection control specialist Marc Meyer, RPh, says the flu already is starting to show up in parts of the Midwest, but hasn’t yet been seen here in the Four Corners. “Last year, we had a late flu season, and it was mild because a lot of people got vaccinated,” said Meyer. It’s too soon to tell what this flu season will be like, but you can protect yourself and your family by choosing to get one of several different types of flu vaccines.
For most individuals between the ages of 6 months and 64 years, the standard flu shot is recommended. “It contains no live virus and provides immunity to the flu strains contained in the vaccine about 14 days after it’s given,” said Meyer. “And we say this every year, but it’s worth repeating – the flu vaccine does not cause anyone to come down with the flu,” said Meyer. Because of the 14-day window between receiving the vaccine and immunity building up to adequate levels, if you get your flu shot and then get the flu it’s because you were exposed before or during that two-week period. In other words, it’s pure coincidence.
If the thought of being jabbed with a needle gives you pause, an intra-dermal vaccine is now available. It’s still an injection, but one that penetrates only the skin, not the muscle. “This vaccine offers a lower does, but gives adequate protection. While it’s less painful when it’s given, we’re hearing that it can make the patient’s arm sorer than the standard shot for several days,” said Meyer.
Patients between the ages of 3 and 49 can avoid the shot altogether by opting for a nasal spray version of the vaccine. It contains a tiny dose of live flu virus and actually provides better immunity to the flu than the injectable versions do. “Because of the live virus, some people experience mild cold or flu-like symptoms for a couple of days after being vaccinated,” said Meyer. Individuals who have close contact with anyone undergoing chemotherapy or who is otherwise immune-compromised should not receive the nasal spray because of the possibility to exposing the immune-compromised person to the live vaccine with the first 48 hours of receiving it.
Adults 65 and older naturally have less robust immune systems and are encouraged to receive the high-dose flu vaccine that is widely available. “It’s about four times stronger than the regular flu shot,” said Meyer. “It may not keep seniors from getting the flu, but it will help keep them out of the hospital and keep them from dying from influenza.”
A new product, FluBlok, is being manufactured for individuals who are allergic to eggs and who have had an adverse reaction to the flu vaccine in the past. (The standard vaccine is made using an egg protein, but most people with egg allergies tolerate the vaccine without problems.) Unfortunately, FluBlok is not yet widely available. If you have had a documented negative reaction to the standard flu vaccine and you are interested in this new product, call Meyer at 564-2190 for assistance.
Check with your primary -care provider about getting vaccinated for the flu this year, or visit one of the local pharmacies. Here’s who is offering what this season:
Walgreens: Standard shot, high-dose shot, nasal spray.
City Market: Standard shot, high-dose shot.
Safeway: Standard shot, high-dose shot, nasal spray, intradermal shot.
Walmart: Not offering a flu shot clinic this year.
The County Health Department will begin offering flu vaccinations in October. Call 565-3056 to inquire about costs and for an appointment.
Southwest Health Notes is a public-service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal health-care provider.