By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
It’s that time again. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits and missed work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. The more people who get vaccinated, the more people will be protected from flu, including older people, very young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications.
Physician Howard Sperry, director at Erie County Medical Center VIP Primary Care, gives six answers to frequently asked questions about flu and vaccine season.
1. Can I get the flu from the flu vaccine?
It is a common myth that you get flu-like symptoms immediately after you get the flu shot. However, the direct answer is no. You can’t get the flu from the shot.
“The reason is because the virus is inactivated when it gets into your system and it is not infectious,” said Sperry, who is also a clinical associate professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “You might get a sore arm, tenderness or a low-grade fever from the shot as a side effect but it is not the flu.”
2. Who should receive the flu vaccinations?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everybody over six months of age get vaccinated. It’s especially important for people 65 and older, anyone who has a chronic condition such as lung or heart disease, diabetes, cancer or HIV infection, pregnant women, people on immunosuppressive drugs and healthcare workers.
“We do recommend people who are 60 years old that they receive the Fluzone high dose. That one contains four times more antigen, which is intended to create a stronger immune response. Seniors tend to have a lower immune system.”
3. Is now too early to get the flu vaccine?
Absolutely no. It is recommended to get vaccinated as soon as vaccine becomes available. The virus tends to spread from October to May, with most cases occurring in January or February. However, vaccinations can be given at any time during the flu season — even getting a vaccination later in the season December through March can still help protect you from influenza.
“The flu vaccine we have focuses on people in our hemisphere and it takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to be effective and your body to build up the antibody. That means if you have contact with someone who has the flu before you got vaccinated or within the two weeks you did get vaccinated then you have the chance of catching it,” said Sperry. “It is not too early to get it now.”
Sperry added that the shot is effective for six months, which gives you protection through the entire flu season.
4. Should I get the flu shot if I’m pregnant?
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are encouraged to be vaccinated. Flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in healthy women who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women, and women who have given birth during the past two weeks, more prone to severe illness from flu, including illness resulting in hospitalization.
That is one of the many reasons why pregnant women should get the flu shot. In addition, studies have shown that vaccinating a pregnant woman also can protect a baby after birth from flu. In this way, mom passes antibodies on to her developing baby that will protect against flu for the first several months after birth, added Sperry.
“We have heard so often that people are afraid to get vaccinated when they are pregnant, but it actually does help you and your baby get protected,” he said.
5. Can I get the flu shot if I have an egg allergy?
The short answer is yes you can. CDC and its advisory committee on immunization practices have updated their guidelines on egg allergy and receipt of flu vaccines. Based on the new recommendations, people with egg allergies no longer need to be observed for an allergic reaction for 30 minutes after receiving a flu vaccine.
“With rare exceptions, you can have the flu vaccine even if you have an egg allergy,” said Sperry. “There are a couple of flu vaccines There are two flu vaccines that don’t contain egg proteins, approved for use in adults age 18 and older.”
6. How serious is influenza?
About 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized due to flu each year. On average, nearly 100 children die in the U.S. from flu and its complications each year.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily take flu season serious especially if you have gone one or two years without the flu,” said Sperry. “But getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the spread of infection. The flu can spread very quickly through a workplace, school, and home if you ignore the idea of getting vaccinated. Don’t put it off.”
New Flu Vaccine
For 2017-2018 flu season, three-component vaccines are recommended to contain:
• an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
• an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus
• a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus