This Season’s Flu Shot

By Temma Ehenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
September 17, 2015

How scientists have worked to make it more effective.

This fall‘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.

Seniors, especially, should get vaccinated early. Last year, a rough season, about 322 seniors for every 100,000 Americans ages 65 and over ended up in the hospital with a flu. The season also lasted 7 weeks longer than usual. Some children with a history of wheezing or asthma were hospitalized and developed symptoms of paralysis, panicking parents. However, evidence is emerging that last year’s flurry of seemingly related scary cases may, in fact, have more than one cause. This suggests less of a threat of a virulent newcomer.

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.

Last year’s shot didn’t seem to work as well as in the past, probably because of a mismatch between the current strains and the vaccine. To get a better match this year, health officials are switching out one of the three strains included in next season's trivalent flu shot, and two of the four strains included in the quadrivalent flu shot.

This fall the H1N1 strain and the influenza B strain will remain the same as last season's, but a new one, called “A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)” has been added to the trivalent shot. The quadrivalent flu shot will also have a new influenza B strain called “B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage)” virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of six months — including pregnant women — get vaccinated. Take an online quiz for a recommendation on which type and form of delivery would be best for you.

Don’t fear that you’ll get the flu from the shot — it does not contain live viruses, only proteins in the virus. A nasal spray option does contain live viruses, but they’ve been weakened so much they can’t make you sick, officials report. There’s also no need to worry about exposure to thimerosal, a preservative that has caused controversy but is considered safe. To put people’s minds to rest, since 2001, officials removed thimersol 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.


September 17, 2015

Reviewed By:

Janet O’Dell, RN

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