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Flu Shots: What You Need to Know

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SPECIAL FROM Grandparents.com

It's that time of year—flu shot season. But before you head to your doctor, pharmacy, or clinic to get your annual flu shot, know that this year, flu shots have changed—you now have a choice between the types of vaccine you prefer.

First, the flu facts. In case you need convincing to get a flu shot: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates deaths associated with the flu to affect anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 people, annually. Of those deaths, about 90 percent occur in people aged 65 and up. And according to a recent study by Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the CDC, getting a flu shot reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization by 71.4 percent for adults and 76.8 percent in people 50+ during the 2011-2012 flu season.

No matter which vaccine you get, what’s important to remember is that everyone—starting at age 6 months—needs to get some kind of influenza vaccine every year, says Susan J. Rehm, MD, Vice Chair of the Department of Infectious Disease and Executive Director of Physician Health at Cleveland Clinic.

Vaccine Types Available

Standard three-strain (trivalent) vaccine. This is the flu shot we’re all used to, and makes up the bulk of the vaccine supply for the United States. It’s manufactured using a virus grown in eggs and is injected into your muscle (“intramuscular”), usually in the upper arm. The vaccine protects against three strains of flu: two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus. The shot is approved for people ages 6 months and older, with different brands approved for different ages.

Standard four-strain (quadivalent) vaccine. This year, there’s a vaccine that protects against four, rather than three strains (an extra B strain has been added). “This will potentially give additional protection,” says Dr. Rehm, since some flu is caused by the B strain that is not covered by the traditional trivalent vaccine. But, she says, since this vaccine is new this year “just how much additional protection can’t be known until after the fact.” Experts predict that all future vaccines will be quadivalent, she says.

High-dose vaccines. This vaccine (also delivered into the muscle) contains four times more antigen than regular flu shots and can rev up an older person’s immune system after getting the vaccine. Since aging naturally decreases a person’s immune response, explains Dr. Rehr, this is recommended for people 65 and over. It protects against three strains of flu and has a safety profile is similar to that of regular flu vaccines. “New information suggests that protection with this vaccine is 25 percent better coverage compared with the standard dose vaccine,” says Rehr.

Nasal spray vaccine. If you’re needle-phobic, healthy and between the ages of two and 49 (and not pregnant), this is an option. Called FluMist Quadrivalent, it’s squirted into the nasal passages and, for the first time this year, protects against four strains of influenza.

An ouch-free vaccine. If you’re older than 49 and hate needles, there’s still hope. Approved for people aged 18 through 64, this vaccine, called Fluzone Intradermal, is injected into the skin rather than the muscle and uses a needle that is 90 percent smaller than those used for regular flu shots. This version protects against three strains of influenza.

Egg-free standard dose trivalent. If you’re among the small population of people allergic to eggs, there’s no need to skip your vaccine. The first egg-free flu vaccine, Flublok, which contains influenza proteins from three flu strains cultured in – of all things - caterpillar cells, is available, but is limited to adults between 18 and 49. If you are too old to qualify, you should talk to a health provider experienced in managing egg allergies.
For more information about flu shots, visit the CDC website.

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