Flu Vaccine 2018 - 2019
What to Know About This Year’s Flu Vaccine Options
Find out how to choose the vaccine that's right for you.
By Amy Kraft
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It’s that time of year again: flu season. To protect yourself against getting sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu shot.
“Vaccination is probably the best weapon against influenza and reduces the risk of people transmitting a debilitating disease,” says Amy Behrman, MD, director of occupational medicine services at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
There are several flu vaccine options for the 2014-2015 flu season, including standard flu shots, intradermal vaccines that get injected between the layers of skin instead of the muscle, egg-free vaccines, nasal vaccines, and a needle-free jet injector system. Flu vaccines are designed to protect against either three or four strains of the flu and thus called trivalent or quadrivalent. The trivalent vaccines protect against two strains of Influenza A and one strain of Influenza B, whereas the quadrivalent, which was first developed in 2013, protects against two Influenza A and two Influenza B strains.
Here’s what you need to know about each of the vaccine options to determine which one is right for you.
The Injectable Vaccine
Also known as the flu shot, the injectable flu vaccine does not contain any live influenza virus and comes in either trivalent or quadrivalent form.
The flu shot is recommended for anyone over the age of 6 months. It is safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, HIV positive or immune compromised, and individuals with pulmonary disease. The flu shot is also safe for people with hives-only egg allergies with some additional precautions, according to the CDC. Individuals who have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome should talk to their doctor before getting vaccinated.
People who can’t get the flu shot include children under the age of 6 months and anyone with severe allergies to eggs or other ingredients in flu vaccines including gelatin and antibiotics.
RELATED: What You Need to Know to Weather This Year's Flu Season
High-Dose Injectable Vaccine for Seniors
The risk of flu is highest among people over the age of 65 because human immune defenses weaken with age. Aging also decreases the effectiveness of a regular flu vaccine. According to the Mayo Clinic, “older people produce 50 to 75 percent fewer antibodies, which protect against the vaccine antigens, than do younger adults.”
Fluzone High-Dose is an injectable vaccine that is recommended for individuals 65 and older. It is a trivalent, inactivated virus and contains four times the amount of flu vaccine antigen found in standard flu vaccines. An August 2014 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the high-dose flu shot was 24 percent more effective at preventing flu than the standard shot in individuals over 65.
People who should not receive the high-dose vaccine include individuals under 65 and anyone who has ever had an allergic reaction to eggs or a flu vaccine.
In January 2013, the Federal Drug Administration approved Flublok, a trivalent vaccine that is made without eggs, antibiotics, and influenza virus. It is also free of gelatin, latex, and thimerosal, a mercury derivative. The vaccine is approved for individuals ages 18 to 49. Behrman says the egg-free vaccine, which is the first of its kind, is a major asset to those with egg allergies. “There has been nothing to offer the population of people who are allergic to eggs, and risk of allergic reaction is something to think about very seriously,” she says.
A Nasal Spray Recommended for Young Children
The Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV), known as FluMist, is the best vaccine for children between the ages of 2 and 8, according to the CDC. The nasal spray flu vaccine is a quadrivalent with a live but weakened virus. Because it is a live vaccine, you may develop flu-like symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, headache, or cough. The nasal spray vaccine is only approved for people up to age 49.
Nasal Mist should not be given to women who are pregnant, anyone with a history of egg allergy, or children under 2 and adults 50 and over.
Smaller Needle That May Help Overcome Fear
The intradermal vaccine is a trivalent vaccine option for use by adults ages 18 to 64. The vaccine has a needle that is 90 percent smaller than a regular flu shot needle and is injected into the top layer of the skin instead of the muscle. “This is good for people who might have a needle phobia,” says Sandra Fryhofer, MD, an Atlanta physician and an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Emory University.
Needle-Free Jet Injector
Approved by the FDA this August, the needle-free injector from the company PharmaJet may also be a good option for someone who does not like needles and cannot get the nasal spray. It is used with the vaccine Afluria, a trivalent vaccine, and is delivered by a pressured stream of fluid that penetrates the skin. The jet injection vaccine is approved for individuals ages 18 to 64.
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