It’s that time of year again! The leaves are changing, the temperatures are dropping, kids are going back to school, and your local pharmacy is advertising flu shots. We can’t see into the future, but as William Schaffner, MD (Immediate Past-President, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases) said “Flu will be here!” That means it’s time to get your yearly flu shot.
According to the CDC, thousands of people in the United States die from flu-related causes. Even though the majority of deaths occur in those 65 years or older, healthy people can still get very sick from the flu leading to serious complications and possibly hospitalization. Getting your flu shot is still the best way to reduce your chances of getting sick and the possibility of getting those around you sick.
Which vaccine should I get?
If you are like us, you have heard about all the different vaccines from flu shots to nasal sprays to the new kid on the block: the quadrivalent vaccine. It can be hard to decipher which to get and when. While the best option is always to make the decision with your doctor, we can explain the differences in general terms.
Most of the flu shots currently on the market protect against three types of seasonal influenza: influenza B viruses, influenza A (H1N1) viruses, and influenza A (H3N2) viruses. Each year, the vaccine is manufactured using a specific virus for each of those three virus types that are predicted to be the best match for the coming season. Two types of vaccines are available to people each year that protect against these three types of flu: the flu shot and the nasal spray. Flu.gov created a great info graphic that describes the difference between these two vaccine types.
New to this year’s lineup, is the quadrivalent vaccine. The quadrivalent vaccine is the first flu vaccine available in the US to contain four strains of the influenza virus (two influenza A strains and two B strains). It is available in both vaccine forms – the shot and the nasal spray. Including a second B strain in the quadrivalent vaccine increases the chance that people will be protected against influenza viruses circulating in the community. All of the nasal spray (FluMist) vaccines this year will be quadrivalent. To note, the quadrivalent shots are being supplied by several manufacturers so you might hear different names and brands being referenced.
Also new this year an egg-free vaccine called Flublok for people with severe egg allergies.
So many choices, what’s a person to do?
There are more choices than ever this year, but some, particularly the newer types, may be in limited supply at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy. But don’t wait for options to become available – all options provide protection against flu. It takes two weeks for your body to respond and provide protection so the sooner you get your vaccine the better! To find flu vaccines near you, please visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder (you can search for specific flu vaccine types by expanding the right checklist under “Flu”). Again, talk to your doctor if you have questions about which vaccine is right for you.
I got my flu shot last year, I don’t need to get one this year, right?
No, you should still get a flu shot every year. Influenza viruses are constantly changing and it’s not unusual for new flu viruses to appear each year. The vaccine is determined every year to make sure that it contains the most recent flu viruses. Influenza is always being researched and always being monitored in order to develop the safest vaccine possible. The research and science is never done.
I’m vaccinated so I won’t get the flu, right?
While getting vaccinated each year provides the best protection for you, your family, and the community, there is still a possibility you may get the flu even if you have gotten the vaccine. The vaccine contains the strains that are estimated to most likely circulate in the community. But due to the virus’ love for change, it could mean that there are strains that will be circulating that aren’t covered by the vaccine. However, the vaccine can still provide protection. Even if you do get sick, the vaccine may help limit the effect of the virus meaning less symptoms and possibly shorten the time of being sick! For more information about vaccine effectiveness, visit How Well Does the Seasonal Flu Vaccine Work? on CDC’s website.