Flu shots plentiful as season begins
WASHINGTON - Flu-shot season is already here and for the first time federal health authorities are urging nearly everyone to get vaccinated, and, for people 65 or older, there is a new high-dose version of the inoculation.
Last year crowds of people lined up for hours for scarce shots during last year’s flu season, which included the swine flu pandemic. Then, infections peaked well before enough vaccine could be produced.
This year will hopefully be a different story, a record vaccine supply is expected and an all-in-one immunization promises protection against the swine flu strain from last year and two other kinds of influenza.
In fact, shipments began so early this year that several drugstores have decided to offer vaccinations amid their back-to-school sales.
The new question is how many people will be concerned this year without the scare factor that drove so many to get vaccinated last year. The new policy for near-universal vaccination means no more stopping to check if you’re on a high-risk list: a yearly dose is recommended for virtually everyone except babies younger than 6 months. The universal shot is not approved for toddlers that young. It is also not to be taken by those with severe allergies to the eggs which the vaccine was brewed in.
“Influenza is serious, and anyone, including healthy people, can get the flu and spread the flu,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Flu vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and those around you.”
The CDC was moving toward that policy even before last year’s pandemic brought to light the inescapable fact that the flu virus isn’t just a deadly threat to grandparents, babies and people with weak lungs or hearts, they are merely the people particularly vulnerable to the virus. No, the flu can also kill 30-somethings, pregnant women and 5-year-olds.
“We were discussing how we were going to his Star Wars Halloween costume after he got out of the hospital ... and all of a sudden his eyes lost their focus,” said Serese Marotta of Dayton, Ohio, describing how her son Joseph, 5, died of swine flu last October before the vaccine was available in her community.
She urged families to make vaccination a priority.
Here are some frequently asked questions answered about the flu and flu-shot this year:
I got vaccinated against both seasonal and that so-called H1N1 flu last year, so why do I need the vaccine for this year?
- It protects against a different strain of the H3N2 influenza family that has cropped up, as well as last year’s swine flu, part of the H1N1 family and a Type B strain. Every year a different flu vaccine is created to match the changing flu strains that circle the globe.
Why is there a new high-dose version for seniors?
- The immune system weakens with age and thus does not respond as actively to a flu shot. Sanofi Pasteur’s Flu-zone High-Dose quadruples the standard dose for people 65 or older. This winter, scientists plan to track if this new high-dose will translate to less illness. Until there is proof that the higher dosage works, the CDC says it is OK to choose either option. Sanofi is finalizing the amount of vaccine that will be made and availability will likely vary upon location. For example, Dr. Marvin Bittner of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Omaha estimates the new shot might benefit one in four seniors and said his center has ordered enough for that entire population. On the other hand, other VA clinics aren’t ordering as much.
Will I need just one shot?
- Most people will, but any children under 9 getting their first-ever flu vaccine will need two, a month apart, to prime their immune systems.
What if my child’s first-ever vaccine was last year and she got one dose of seasonal and one dose of swine flu vaccine?
- According to Dr. Michael Brady, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and co-author of the American Academy of Pediatric flu vaccination guidelines, the child was not primed enough last year and will need two doses this year. The guidelines were released Monday.
Will there be enough vaccine?
- Manufacturers project 170 million doses. Obviously that won’t cover the entire population, but the CDC knows its near-universal vaccination policy won’t spark a stampede for shots. Before last year, the vaccine was recommended for 85 percent of Americans but only about a third got vaccinated. Last year nearly all 114 million doses of seasonal vaccine were used, but as the swine flu outbreak slowed, just 90 million doses of the special vaccine were used out of nearly 162 million eventually produced for the general public.
Who’s at high risk to catch the flu?
- Young children, anyone 50 or older, anyone with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease and pregnant women. Also, health workers and caregivers of infants can infect the vulnerable unless vaccinated.
When should vaccinations start?
- Chain pharmacies already have started vaccinating and protection will last all winter. It takes about two weeks to kick in and the flu typically starts circulating around November.