There’s still time to get a flu shot, and vaccination is the best way to protect your child from complications of the virus.  Additionally, there are some really interesting advances in the way the vaccines are being made this year. To help us understand everything we need to know about the flu and what’s new this year, we asked Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Sandra Arnold, MD, to give us the rundown.

So what’s new this flu season?

There are some very interesting new flu vaccine products .

  • There are two  new  flu  vaccines  available  this  season which  are not  made  in eggs.  Until  now,  all  the  viruses  used in  flu  vaccines  around  the  world  had to  be  grown  in  eggs.  This  meant that  companies  making  the vaccine  had  to have  enough  eggs to  manufacture  flu  vaccine.  In  addition,  the  viruses  can sometimes  change  or  adapt  slightly  during  growth  in  eggs which  may  make them  slightly  different  from  the  viruses.  Because the  process  of  growing  the  viruses  in  eggs takes  a  long  time,  the  viruses to  be  included  in  vaccines  for  the  next  flu  season had  to  be  decided  many months  in  advance.  As  a  result,  sometimes  the  circulating  viruses  would change  before  flu  season and  the  vaccine  viruses  would  not  match  the circulating  viruses  as well  as they  could.  The  new  vaccines  do  not  require eggs and,  therefore,  overcome  many  of  these  limitations.
  • There are two  new  types  of  flu  vaccines  that  are quite  different  from  each other.  One  new  vaccine  uses cell  culture  cells  that  can  be  kept  frozen in  a  laboratory  until needed. Using  cells  rather  than  eggs is of  benefit  because the vaccine  can  be  produced  more  rapidly  and  closer  to  the  time  of  flu  season and  the  viruses  will  not  change  during  growth.  This  means  that  the  viruses in  the  vaccine  are more  likely  to  be  a  close  match.  This  quadrivalent  (4 virus)  flu  vaccine  (Flucelvax)  is approved  for  children  4  years  of  age  and older.
  • The other  new  vaccine  contains  only  one  of  the  proteins,  the  hemagglutinin, from  the  surface of  the  flu virus. This  is manufactured  in  the  laboratory and  is the  active  ingredient  in  the  vaccine  i.e.  the  vaccine  does not contain  the  influenza  virus.  Since  this  vaccine  does not  use eggs,  it is better  for  similar  reasons  to  the  cell-based  vaccine.  Its additional benefit  is that  it can  be  manufactured  even  more  quickly  because it does not  require  growing  flu  virus  in  a  lab  at  all.  This  means  that  the  decision of  which  virus  strains  to  cover  in  the  vaccine  can  be  made  closer  to  the flu  season, which  will  improve  the  match  of  vaccine  with  circulating  virus. Also,  when  there  is another  pandemic,  vaccine  can  be  made  very  quickly. This  trivalent  (three  virus)  vaccine  (Flublok)  is approved  for  adults  18 years  of  age  and  older.

What  is the  same  this  flu  season?

Much is the  same  for  this  season as for  the 2016-17  season, but it’s still important to remember the following:

  • The Centers  for  Disease  Control  and  Prevention  said  that  the  nasal  spray vaccines  should  not  be  used again  this  year  due  to  reduced effectiveness. For  this  year,  only  the  injectable  flu  vaccines  (flu  shot)  are to  be  used.
  • Again this  year  there  are flu  shots  that  contain  three  viruses  (Trivalent )  and  flu  shots  that  contain  4 viruses  (Quadrivalent ).  These include  the  two  new  vaccines  discussed    There  is no  preference  for one  vaccine  over  another.
  • It is recommended that  everyone  6  months  of  age  and  older  get  a  flu  shot every  year. Getting  a  flu  shot  is an  important  way  to  protect  you  and  your children  against  serious  illness.  If you  or  other  family  members have  not yet  had  a  flu  shot  this  year,  the  time  to  get  one  is now.  Children  under  9  years  of  age  who  have  never  received  a  flu  shot should  get  2  flu  shots  one  month  apart  the  first  year  they  receive  a  flu shot.
  • The flu  is not  just  a  cold. Symptoms  of  fever,  muscle  aches and  cough  can last  for  many  days.  Some  people  with  the  flu  can  develop  pneumonia  either from  the  flu  virus  or  from  bacteria  that  can  get  into  the  lungs  more  easily because of  the  flu.  The  most  severe  complications  from  the  flu  occur  in children  younger  than  2  years  old  and  in  children  with  medical  conditions such as asthma  and  other  lungs  diseases,  heart  diseases,  diabetes  and  other chronic  illnesses.
  • The flu  shot  has many  benefits. It can keep  you  from  getting  the  flu.  It is not  a  perfect  vaccine  so you  can  still  get  the  flu  even  if you  have  had  the shot  but  often  the  illness  is more  mild  if you  have  had  the  shot.  The  flu shot  decreases  the  risk  that  you  would  need  to  be  in  the  hospital  for  the flu.  The  flu  shot  has been  shown  to  prevent  deaths  in  children  from influenza.  If you  think  you  or  your  child  has the  flu,  you  should  go  to  the doctor  to  be  tested. There are medicines  for  the  flu  which  can decrease  the  amount  of  time  you  are sick,  but  they  work  better  the  earlier in  the  illness  they  are given.
  • While the  flu  shot  is the  best  way  to  protect  your  child,  vaccinating  your child  will  help  to  protect  the  elderly,  who  don’t  have  as good of a  response to  the  vaccine,  from  the  flu  as well  as other  children  and  adults  who  have conditions  that  may  make  them  sicker  if they  get the flu.

If you haven’t gotten your shot already, don’t wait any longer.