I hope that the experts are correct about their predictions regarding this year’s flu season. I say this because these same experts’ predictions on COVID-19, especially early on in the disease process, turned out to be totally wrong. After reading in February or March that their predictions were that this virus would not be severe, I passed their predictions on to you, the readers of this column (recall that early on, even Dr. Fauci said that masks did not help). Unfortunately for a lot of people, those predictions were incorrect. They now predict that this year’s flu season will be both not as severe as a usual flu season (normally, seasonal flu accounts for 34-61,000 deaths every year) and will have a later start, perhaps December or January. These predictions make sense as they are based on the fact that we are still staying home, social distancing, and wearing masks to protect us from COVID-19, thus protecting us from influenza as well. Be that as it may, it is still imperative that everyone gets a flu shot as well as a coronavirus vaccine, when it becomes available.
There are three types of influenza vaccine: inactivated (the virus is “dead” [since a virus is not a living organism, just a string of protein surrounded by a shell, it cannot be either alive nor dead]), recombinant, and live-attenuated (the virus is weakened). The recommended type of vaccine depends on the patient’s age and health. This season, the inactivated vaccine, given by injection, will contain inactive components of four different viruses (quadrivalent). This vaccine is approved for those aged six months and older. A higher-dose inactive vaccine is available as an option for those 65 and older. The recombinant vaccine, made without eggs or influenza virus, is available for those 18 and older, especially if they have any egg allergies. The live-attenuated vaccine, given as a nasal spray, is approved for those aged two to 49 with normal-functioning immune systems. Normally, immunity from influenza vaccine appears about three to four weeks after it is given and lasts about six months. It is recommended that the vaccine be given by the end of October, but it can be administered at any time during flu season, which is usually from late October to early May.
The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year and is based upon the types of viruses in circulation, the match between the vaccine and the virus type, and the age and health of the patient. In 2017 – 2018, flu vaccine administration is estimated to have prevented 7.1 million illnesses, 109,000 hospitalizations, and 8000 deaths. All three vaccine types are considered very safe. The most common side-effect of injected vaccines is soreness at the injection site. Side-effects from the nasal spray vaccine can be nasal congestion, headache, and sore throat. In certain flu seasons, the inactivated vaccine has been associated with a slightly higher risk of a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome. The live vaccine should be used carefully in people with asthma because of a possible increased risk of wheeze.
For more information go to: www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm