Some retail drugstores have been promoting their 2010 flu vaccine since August. Getting vaccinated for the flu in the summer is a strange concept for many people. I think most people in my area, this summer, ignored the advertisements. Others have wondered whether they should get the flu shot this early out of concern that it may not last long enough. Some of my patients have asked if they will need to get vaccinated for H1N1 this year if they had the vaccine last fall or winter.
Here are some answers to these questions as well as a few comments:
- This year's flu vaccine has been available for several weeks and contains both seasonal and H1N1 components for your protection. That’s right! One flu shot should protect you against both types of flu syndromes.
- According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) this flu vaccine should protect you for eight months. The seasonal flu usually prevails from December through March. If you were to get your flu shot today, you should be protected through May of next year.
-Although the H1N1 component is the same as last year, your antibody response to the current vaccine will be boosted by this year’s flu vaccine (if you had one last year or earlier this year). You may have a poor antibody level against H1N1 if you rely on the vaccine you received almost a year ago.
-The seasonal flu vaccine component of this year’s flu vaccine is different and is based on research done on flu strains from people that caught the flu in winter 2009-10.
-Many people with a history of egg allergy can get the flu vaccine (containing seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines) as long as they are evaluated by a board certified allergist. Skin testing to egg and the vaccine would be done first. Special dosing may be necessary (flu vaccine given in a series of small doses) if allergic sensitivity to the vaccine is confirmed or highly suspected.
Who should get flu vaccine this year?
According to the CDC:
Routine flu vaccination of anyone 6 months of age or older is recommended as long as there is not a history of egg allergy or prior allergy to flu vaccine.
Those children older than 6 months but younger than 9 years of age, that only had one flu shot last year, should get two this year (one month apart) in order to achieve full vaccination.
Health providers will be emphasizing the importance of getting the flu vaccine more intensely to their patients with chronic medical illnesses (for example asthma, other lung diseases, diabetes and kidney disorders), toddlers, elderly patients and pregnant women. But all people over 6 months of age will be advised to get them (with the above mentioned exceptions).
Last year there were many articles raising concern about the safety of the H1N1 vaccine. The CDC is confident that such concerns should now be gone, based on the successful experience with the 2009 vaccination program.
Remember: Flu vaccines are not a guarantee that you will not get sick from the flu this winter. Vaccination to the flu is a major step towards avoiding a severe, life-threatening illness as a result of flu virus infection. This means that you will be less likely to have severe complications (pneumonia for example) and die from flu syndrome if you have antibody protection against flu virus.