UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —There was a time when there were two choices when it came to flu shots: get vaccinated or not. This year, drug companies are not only offering the vaccine in multiple forms, they are also offering multiple vaccines.
“It’s always been pretty simple — we had one flu shot and that was it,” said registered nurse Paula LaBonte, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center employee flu campaign coordinator. “This year, there are many, many choices.”
Millions of people in the United States get the flu each year. Most get better within a week or two. But thousands of people with the flu develop pneumonia or other complications, and each year, about 36,000 people in the United States die of problems related to the flu. While not a full-proof protection against all strains of flu, getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting sick. And this year’s vaccine offers more protection than ever.
LaBonte said that the biggest change this year is the quadravalent vaccine that offers protection against four strains of virus versus the traditional trivalent that protects against three. The flu vaccine is developed months before flu season and it’s the best guess for the season at the time the vaccine is manufactured.
“This year’s vaccine offers just that additional bit of protection,” Labonte said.
Also, a significant stride has made flu vaccinations safe for use on allergy sufferers who had previously been unable to receive the egg-based form of the shot. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), FluBlok is a trivalent form that can be used by adults ages 18-49 and is as safe and effective as a traditional vaccine. LaBonte said that before this option, people with allergies either avoided the vaccine or received regular vaccine through allergy clinics that monitor them for a reaction to the original shot.
The CDC also reports a newer vaccine is available for use by people 65 and older. Fluzone is a quadrivalent vaccine that is four times more potent than other forms of the vaccine. The higher dosage prompts a better immune response and results in better protection against the virus for seniors. The various types of vaccines are also being offered in different forms this year.
For the needle phobic, a quadravalent nasal spray is an option, but it is only recommended for those ages 2 to 49 who are healthy and not pregnant. Another option for people who fear needles is the new intradermal option. According to LaBonte, it involves a shorter needle injected under the skin, which makes it less painful verses the standard intramuscular injection given with needle straight into the arm.
“People who are needle-phobic like that better,” she said.
Early flu season?
LaBonte warns recipients that the intradermal injection is more likely to cause a reaction at the administration site. Those side effects are simply pain, redness, swelling and possibly itching. With early confirmed cases of flu on both coasts and the potential for an early flu season nationwide, health professionals like LaBonte are urging people to explore their options now and get vaccinated soon.
“Who knows how quickly it’s going to get here? People do travel.”
Research your options
Not all forms of the vaccine will be offered at all flu vaccine sites. LaBonte suggests calling your physician or pharmacist to find out your options ahead of time. Which types and forms available will depend on where you obtain your inoculation.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu.