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 nasal spray option is off the table for the current year.
For seniors, there’s a brand new flu vaccine with adjuvant, also known as Fluad, designed to boost the immune response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports research that it has been 63 percent more effective than ordinary shots.
Those results beat the other special option for seniors, the “high dose vaccine,” which contains more antigen. You’ll see criticism of the vaccine online, but the evidence is clear: It has cut cases of flu among seniors by 24 percent, compared to the standard dose, even if they were frail or had ongoing illnesses. Other research has found that the higher dose has cut cases of pneumonia following flu by almost 40 percent.
Some people worry that it might not be safe for the elderly to take the higher dose two years in a row. A 2016 study with more than 7,600 participants concluded that it’s fine. The higher dose is more effective than the regular shot, whatever you did the previous year.
However, so far there are no high-quality studies directly comparing the two options for seniors.
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.) But seniors are most likely to be hospitalized because of flu, or die. Over the years, the agency estimates, vaccination has cut likely hospitalizations for the flu by 9 to 22 percent.
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. The anti-viral drugs available are only shown to work if taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. Most people don’t get to the doctor in time. Every year, between 3,000 and 50,000 people in the United States die of the flu and thousands 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.
November 21, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN