It’s time for flu shots, and this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a new recommendation for parents of young children.
The CDC’s preferred vaccine for healthy children ages 2 through 8 is now FluMist, said Beverly Stewart, a registered nurse who is the immunization services coordinator for the Sedgwick County Public Health Department.
FluMist, a gentle nasal spray that contains a weakened version of the live flu virus, tends to better protect that population, the CDC said.
People older than 65 years may choose between a standard flu shot or a high-dose flu shot that has four times the antigens of the standard shot. The high-dose version was approved by the FDA in 2009.
But a recommendation by the popular Consumer Reports magazine to not rush to get the high-dose vaccine may leave some seniors wondering what to do.
Consumer Reports made the recommendation in part based on a study of the high-dose flu vaccine that was published in the Aug. 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The Consumer Reports article said the study showed it was “slightly more likely than the standard vaccine to prevent the flu in people 65 and up” and went on to cite that the high-dose version is likely to cause more side effects, including headache, muscle aches and fever.
Consumers who read that recommendation should probably keep a couple of things in mind, Stewart said.
She noted that the study article reported the high-dose flu shot was 24.2 percent more effective in preventing the flu in the 65-and-older population.
The conclusion of the study, according to the New England Journal of Medicine’s website, is that the high-dose vaccine “induced significantly higher antibody responses and provided better protection” than the standard version.
“It would make sense that the high-dose would have more side effects since it has more antigens, which cause more of a response in the immune system,” Stewart said. “The more you give the immune system, the harder it will fight.”
Stewart said that the CDC “does not recommend one over the other,” so seniors shouldn’t wait on a specific version to get protected against the flu.
The high-dose vaccine was developed to better protect the segment of the population that is more vulnerable to the virus, said a Wichita infectious diseases and internal medicine doctor.
“As we age, our immune system ages,” said Maggie Hagan, with Infectious Disease Consultants. The regular flu vaccine is about 50 percent protective in older adults, she said.
About 90 percent of flu deaths happen in people older than 65 during the regular flu season, according to the CDC.
For some senior consumers, the choice between a high-dose flu vaccine and a regular dose could come down to cost and availability, Hagan noted. Not all clinics offer the high-dose version.
A spokesman for Walgreens said that for consumers paying cash, the high-dose vaccine will cost $54.99, while the standard, seasonal shot will cost $31.99. Wichita-area Walgreens will offer the high-dose flu vaccine, but it may not be available at all locations, said spokesman Phil Caruso.
Stewart, Hague and even Caruso reiterated the CDC’s recommendation to get the vaccine as early as possible to provide the best protection against illness.
New advice for seniors
This year, the CDC is urging people 65 and older to get a new kind of pneumonia vaccine along with their flu shot.
Children already receive Pfizer’s Prevnar-13 to prevent a kind of bacteria, called pneumococcus, that can cause pneumonia, meningitis and other infections. Now seniors need a one-time dose, too, according to the CDC.
That’s in addition to a one-time dose of another long-used pneumonia vaccine, called a polysaccharide vaccine. The caveat: The two pneumonia shots have to be given at least six months apart. If you’ve had neither so far, get the new kind first – along with this year’s flu shot – and come back later for the second pneumonia vaccine, said physician William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Together, the two pneumonia shots are expected to cut seniors’ risk of pneumococcal infection by 45 percent and reduce the chance of severe disease by 75 percent, Schaffner said.
Do you need a flu shot?
Anyone older than 6 months should get a flu vaccine early, as soon as it’s available, recommend local health care professionals, unless there is a medical reason they shouldn’t. That’s been CDC’s advice since 2010.
Only about half of Americans get the flu vaccine, according to the CDC. On average, the center estimates, flu kills about 24,000 Americans a year.
Contributing: Associated Press
Types of flu vaccine
Manufacturers are projecting between 154 million and 160 million vaccines will be available in the U.S. this flu season, with no signs of shortages or delays. Vaccines generally become available in October or before. Some area pharmacies, such as Dillons and Walgreens, are advertising vaccines available now.
The CDC doesn’t recommend one type of flu vaccine over the other. Different types of flu vaccines include:
▪ Standard, seasonal flu vaccine. This offers protection against two influenza A viruses (an H1N1 and an H3N2) and an influenza B virus. The virus is grown in eggs and is not recommended for those who are allergic to eggs.
▪ FluMist. This nasal spray is the only version containing a live virus, but it is a weakened version. It is the preferred vaccine for healthy children ages 2-8, according to the CDC. FluMist also may be used by healthy people ages 2 through 49 who aren’t pregnant.
▪ High-dose flu vaccine. This shot contains four times the antigens of a standard flu shot and is available only to those 65 and older
▪ Quadrivalent flu vaccine. This vaccine contains protection against two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses.
▪ “Egg-free” flu vaccines, which are not grown in eggs and therefore are an option for those with allergies to eggs.
For more information on flu vaccines, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm.