Flu Season Brings New and Old Recommendations about Vaccines

As summer winds down and autumn starts, the familiar refrain begins: Get your flu shot.

But is it really that important? Do they even work?

“Everyone above the age of 6 months must get an annual flu vaccine,” said Edward Goodman, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas. He added that only people with life-threatening egg allergies should weigh their options regarding what kind of flu shot to have.

“Newer egg-free, recombinant vaccines are available for those rare persons who had a true life-threatening reaction to eggs,” Goodman said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the following changes have been made to the 2016-2017 flu vaccine recommendations:

  • Only injectable flu shots are recommended for use this season.
  • Flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses.
  • There will be some new vaccines on the market this season.
  • The recommendations for vaccination of people with egg allergies have changed.

If you’re a parent, that first item may have caused you to sit up. No FluMist this year?

“Apparently it was shown to not be as effective as the injectable, killed vaccine,” Goodman said.

In prior years, FluMist had been approved for people between the ages of 2 and 49 years old by the Food and Drug Administration. It is a live virus, while the standard vaccine is an inactive virus.

When the CDC’s advisory panel announced its recommendation for this year, Benard Dreyer, M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement that “we agree with the decision today to recommend health care providers and parents use only the inactivated vaccine.”

And as for egg allergies, the CDC clarified who can get a standard flu shot and who should, as Goodman said, opt for a recombinant vaccine.

“People who have experienced only hives after exposure to egg can get any licensed flu vaccine that is otherwise appropriate for their age and health,” the agency said.

In addition, people who have more serious symptoms like respiratory distress or lightheadedness or who need epinephrine or emergency interventions can also get the standard vaccine, “but [they] should be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.”

Those settings can include a hospital, clinic, health department or doctor’s office. People with egg allergies also no longer have to wait 30 minutes after receiving their vaccine. Of course, you should always talk to your physician about their comfort level and your comfort level regarding this change, since other options are available.

The flu vaccine is changed every year based on projections regarding what strains will likely hit the United States. This year, the CDC says all vaccines will cover three strains of the flu (two A viruses and one B), and the four-component vaccines will include an additional B virus.

“Seasonal flu viruses can be detected year-round, however, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May,” the CDC said. “Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and March.”

In addition to getting a seasonal flu vaccine, the CDC said you can take everyday preventive actions like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading it to others. In addition, there are prescription medications called antiviral drugs that can be used to treat influenza illness.

If you think you have the flu, contact your primary care physician immediately, because there are antiviral medications that can help lessen the impact of the virus on your body.

Do you need a flu shot, or are you looking for a primary care physician? Make an appointment today with a Texas Health Physicians Group doctor. Visit THPG.org or call 1-800-916-8080.

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