Health officials say there are some big changes in this year’s flu vaccine.
In addition to some vaccines now covering four strains of influenza, the shot is available for people with egg allergies for the first time and a stronger dose for the elderly has been made available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Last year when we had the flu vaccine it covered three strains and providers would have to choose between a B virus that they would choose to vaccinate their patients with,” said Alexis Reitman, PA and Northwestern Medicine Primary and Specialty Care in Bucktown. “This year it actually comes with that virus so it’s more protection.”
Another big change is that the flumist nasal spray is no longer being recommended by health officials, citing a lack of effectiveness of the last three years.
“The bottom line is that for now it’s not recommended,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “And for as soon as possible we hope to get it back on the market and recommended.”
The CDC said it remains unclear why the nasal vaccine has continuously underperformed. Last year, roughly 20 million people received the nasal spray, about one-third of those being children, officials said.
The surprising move to stop recommending the nasal spray this year initially had many health experts concerned about whether there would be enough vaccine supply to meet the demand.
Vaccine manufacturers had projected as many as 171 million to 176 million doses, in all forms, would be available in the United States during the upcoming flu season. The nasal vaccine was expected to make up about 8 percent of that, according to the CDC.
But manufacturers of the flu shot have since increased their production this year, making up to 168 million doses available, 93 million of which has already been distributed.
“The industry was able to adapt rapidly – providers to adapt rapidly so that providers now have a full range of flu shots available and encourage people to get one,” Frieden said.
Officials also say some patients will be able to get the flu shot using a needle that is 90 percent smaller and thinner than the typical needle.
“You may feel some soreness at the injection site but it’s totally worth it because the flu can take you out for a few days from work or school,” said Reitman.
Public health officials and doctors recommend the flu shot for anyone 6 months and older, but say it’s especially important for infants and adults over the age of 65.
Flu can be a serious illness, particularly for young children, senior citizens and those with such chronic conditions as asthma, heart disease or diabetes. On average thousands die each year from the flu, a number that can fluctuate depending on which strain is circulating. The CDC has estimated from a low of 3,000 deaths to a high of 49,000 between the 1976-1977 and 2006-2007 seasons.
The CDC recommends that you get a vaccine every year even when the viruses the vaccine protects against have not changed. Your immune protection from the vaccination will decline over time.
Symptoms for influenza include a fever, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache, and a runny or stuffy nose.