We've got the latest facts about the best way to prevent influenza.
The vaccine formulation is the same as last year's. It's only the fourth time in the past 25 years that there's been no change in at least one of the vaccine strains. But if your family got the vaccine last year, that doesn't mean you can take the year off. Unfortunately, this vaccine's protection fades significantly after six to eight months, especially in children, says Carol J. Baker, M.D., executive director of the Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research and chair of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's immunization advisory panel. "If you don't want to get the flu, your family needs to be vaccinated again this year."
Flu shots are now recommended for most kids and adults with egg allergies. Because flu vaccine is grown in eggs, patients with egg allergies have long been discouraged from getting it. But the amount of egg protein in the vaccine has declined over the years, and a number of recent studies show that egg-allergic people can safely get the shot. For the first time, the CDC is recommending the injected vaccine (not the nasal spray) for people with a mild egg allergy, such as those who only get a mild rash. Make sure you get the vaccine from a doctor, who should observe your child for 30 minutes afterward and be prepared to treat any reactions.
There's a push to get kids with asthma vaccinated. A recent survey found that one in three parents of children with asthma didn't get their child vaccinated, in large part because of unsubstantiated fears about the vaccine. However, studies show that children with asthma who catch the flu have a higher risk of serious complications and are four times as likely to be hospitalized than children without asthma.
You'll find more vaccinations at the local drugstore. Eighteen percent of adults got their flu shots from a pharmacist or at another community location during last year's flu season, and officials expect that number to grow. Approximately 30 states now allow pharmacists to vaccinate children (usually within specified age limits), according to the American Pharmacists Association.
Adults can get a new type of vaccine. In addition to the FluMist nasal spray and the traditional shot, this year healthy adults ages 18 to 64 now have a third vaccine choice: the Fluzone Intradermal vaccine. It has an ultrafine needle that is one tenth the size of traditional needles and inserted just a few millimeters into the skin. Studies show it's as safe and effective as the other options, but it creates less soreness at the injection site. What's more important, it requires a much smaller amount of the vaccine, which could be essential in the event of a shortage. This year, it will be available only in limited areas, though it's expected to be more widely distributed in the future.