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.