Flu season is just around the corner, and flu shots are now available. Who in your family needs the influenza vaccine? Keep reading – I'll help you decide!
Here is the easy answer: everyone age 6 months and older should have a flu vaccine.
And here is where it gets more complicated – what if you have an egg allergy? Who is considered "high risk" for complications of the flu? Can pregnant women be vaccinated? Aren't there several kinds of flu vaccine, and which is best? Do I need one dose or two? Is the timing of vaccination important? Don't worry – we will answer all of these questions.
Types of influenza vaccine available in 2013-2014
Each year, expert scientists try to predict the strains of influenza that will be most likely to cause illness, and those strains are included in the vaccine. In general, there are two types of flu vaccine: trivalent and quadrivalent. I'm getting the quadrivalent vaccine, since it protects against 4 different flu strains (and the trivalent only protects against three).
There are various brands of the trivalent vaccine available for adults and children aged 6 months and older.
The quadrivalent is available in several forms.
- There is a nasal spray, called FluMist®, for healthy nonpregnant people aged 2 through 49 years.
- There is an intradermal shot (meaning it is given just under the skin, like a tuberculosis test, and not in the muscle) called Fluzone, available for people aged 6 months and older.
- The rest of the shots are given the old-fashioned way: in the muscle (usually in the shoulder for children and adults, and in the thigh for infants). The shot is available as "high-dose" for people aged 65 and older, and "standard dose" for those under 65.
The best vaccine depends upon your age and state of health.
When to get vaccinated
We used to think that the vaccine would "wear off" if given too early. We now know that the vaccine should be given as soon as it is available, and it will indeed give lasting protection throughout the flu season.
What if you're on the fence?
Not sure you want the vaccine? Seasonal flu epidemics cause millions of people to get sick worldwide, and hundreds of thousands to die. It is especially important to get the vaccine if you have one of these risk factors (or live with someone at risk):
- children aged 6 months through 5 years
- adults aged 50 or older
- people of any age with asthma, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, liver or kidney problems, blood or neurological conditions
- people whose immune system is weakened (due, for example, to immune-suppressing medications or HIV infection)
- pregnant women
- people who are morbidly obese (defined as a body mass index of 40 or more – click here for a BMI calculator)
- healthcare workers
One dose or two?
Children between 6 months and 8 years of age typically need two doses at least four weeks apart. Everyone else just needs one dose.
What if you're pregnant?
Pregnant women should definitely be vaccinated. They should receive the inactivated vaccine, not the FluMist (which is a live vaccine).
Allergic to eggs?
If you are able to eat scrambled eggs without a reaction, then you can get the flu vaccine without any concern. If you have hives after eating eggs, then you can get any flu vaccine except the live one (FluMist), but you must be observed at the doctor's office for 30 minutes after vaccination to watch for a reaction. However, if eating eggs causes a serious reaction, then you can only be vaccinated with FluBlok® (a recombinant vaccine, which is not made with chicken embryos, but is only approved in people aged 18 through 49 years). If you have a serious egg allergy and cannot receive FluBlok, then it would be best to see an allergist.
All Parkview Physicians Group – Family Care locations offer the flu vaccine.
If you would like more information on the inactivated flu vaccine (which includes every brand except the FluMist nasal vaccine and the Flublok recombinant vaccine), click here. For more information on the live, inactivated vaccine, FluMist, click here.