How scientists have worked to make it more effective.
This fall and winter's flu shot may have arrived or come soon in your neighborhood (check here where).
Don’t put off your shot. You might not think of it until people in your office or household are coming down with fevers, body aches and congestion — but the antibodies the vaccine stimulates take about two weeks to develop. Vaccination prevents millions of cases of flu each year.
What’s new this season:
The vaccines have been updated to match circulating viruses.
A nasal spray is available, an option for people ages two through 49. Pregnant women and those with certain illnesses shouldn't rely on a spray, so talk to your pharmacist. (Most pharmacies offer the flu shot, some of them for free.)
The Fluarix Quadrivalent for children is now recommended for children 6 months and older. The tivalent formulation of Afluria is recommended for children five years and older.
There's a new option to shorten a flu without complications, if you act quickly. The Food and Drug Administration approved baloxavir marboxil (trade name Xofluza) to treat flu in people 12 years old and older, within the first 48 hours of symptoms.
Xofluza, a single tablet, can cut a flu by a day, and, with a coupon, will cost $30 for patients with health insurance, and $90 for the uninsured.
For seniors, Fluad, designed to boost the immune system, is back for the fourth year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, does not recommend it over the “high dose vaccine,” another senior option. But, as before, the agency urges seniors to get vaccinated, as they are most likely to be hospitalized because of flu, or even die from it.
The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months — including pregnant women get vaccinated. (You can take an online quiz for a recommendation on which type and form of delivery would be best for you.) Some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine.
Over the years, the agency estimates, that vaccination has prevented more than 5 million cases of the flu in the season before last, about the population of metropolitan Atlanta.
Keeping up with viruses isn’t an easy job. Viruses are famous for their ability to mutate speedily, which means officials can’t predict the severity and length of the winter flu season. In the United States it may stretch from October through May. But even in the summer, the flu could be a possible cause of flu-like respiratory symptoms.
Don’t fear that you’ll get the flu from the shot—it does not contain live viruses, only proteins in the virus. You may hear that it’s not safe to exercise before or after the shot, but a 2016 review of the research found no clear evidence. There’s also no need to worry about exposure to thiomerosal, a preservative that has caused controversy but is considered safe. To put people’s minds to rest, since 2001, officials removed thiomersol from vaccines in individual-dose bottles and nasal sprays.
Some people might shrug that they’ll worry about the flu if they get it. However, antibiotics won’t help you — they fight bacteria, not viruses. And although there's a new anti-viral drug available, most people don’t get to the doctor in time. Every year, between 12,000 and 60,000 people in the United States die of the flu and 140,000 to 710,000 need hospitalization.
You also can’t count on last year’s shot to protect you. The effect wears off after several months. And remember, the flu strains evolve. They change. Then change again. Let’s be thankful for the cadre of scientists working hard to track them.
October 30, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN