If you think that you are protected from the flu this year because you were vaccinated last year or in the past, think again. Not only does each year’s vaccine differ in the flu strains targeted, but the immunity provided by the vaccine wanes over time.
According to Dr. Sarah Haessler from the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center, a new study just released reports that annual flu shots offer up to six months of protection. The findings were based on research of more than 1,700 Americans of all ages who got flu shots and were followed for four flu seasons.
Similar to past years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that everyone six months of age and older be vaccinated unless their doctor recommends against it because of certain pre-existing conditions.
Vaccination is particularly important for those at high risk for serious flu complications, including young children, the elderly, those with heart disease, and pregnant women. The most important complication that can affect both high-risk adults and children is pneumonia. The flu can also aggravate and worsen chronic conditions such as heart disease and asthma.
The time to get your flu shot is right now, noted Dr. Haessler.
“There have already been some documented cases of flu in the area. So, getting your shot early is the best strategy, since it takes around two weeks after vaccination for your body to make antibodies against the influenza virus,” said Dr. Haessler, who noted that flu season usually runs from October to May and normally peaks in January or February.
According to Dr. Michael Klatte of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Baystate Children’s Hospital, getting a flu shot for your children is the single most important thing you can do to protect them and others in your family, who may be exposed to the influenza virus if your child becomes infected at school or elsewhere.
Children between 6 months and 8 years of age may need two doses of flu vaccine – given at least four weeks apart – to be fully protected from flu.
“Because these doses should be given at least four weeks apart, it’s a good idea to begin the vaccination process right now, because we never really know if, and when, the flu season might peak early,” said Klatte.
Of special note for people 65 years and older, a new high dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot, and is associated with a stronger immune response and may translate into greater protection against the flu.
According to the CDC, three kinds of flu viruses commonly circulate among people today: influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses, and influenza B viruses. All of the 2015-2016 influenza vaccines are made to protect against these three viruses.
It’s been widely publicized over the years that those who are allergic to eggs should not get the flu vaccine. There are now flu vaccines that do not contain egg proteins, such as Flublok. There are also other flu vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that do not contain egg proteins, and are approved for those 18 years of age and older. Check with your doctor about which vaccine is best for you.
Also, if you are afraid of needles, there is a nasal spray vaccine called FluMist.
However, it cannot be used by children younger than 2 years of age and adults over age 49, as well as anyone with asthma, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems. For those who have previously experienced arm pain after intramuscular injection of flu vaccine, there is a jet injector with a very short needle that injects vaccine just under the skin. It can be used for individuals who are 18-64 years old.
For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc or for more information about Baystate Children’s Hospital, visit baystatehealth.org/bch.