As fall approaches it’s a great time to get out and enjoy the cooler temperatures, view the foliage changes, and yes, get a flu shot. Influenza shots (often called flu shots) are vaccines that protect against contracting the influenza virus. Influenza is a respiratory illness that causes fever, chills, cough and fatigue. This is not related to gastroenteritis, which some people call the stomach flu.
The flu vaccine is an important step in maintaining your health. In the U.S. alone, 5 percent to 20 percent of people get sick from the flu virus every year and thousands of those die. There may be a few rare exceptions, but in general, everyone six months of age and older should get an influenza vaccine every year.
Because the influenza virus can vary from year to year, the effectiveness can fluctuate. The vaccine that comes out each year is the best prediction of what the main circulating viruses will be. No vaccine has 100 percent effectiveness, but the vaccine will likely reduce the severity and length of your illness.
Flu vaccines reduce the risk of illness by around 60 percent when the vaccine is well matched to the circulating viruses. Even if you do get sick, the chances of severe illness and/or hospitalization is lower with vaccination.
A common misconception is that getting the flu shot can actually give you the flu. You cannot get influenza from the vaccine. You can get side effects such as soreness at the injection site, headache, low grade fever, nausea and fatigue. These are typically mild and are short lived. Life threatening allergic reactions are very rare.
There are many flu vaccine options to choose from, but the most important thing is to get one each year. Most are given as injections, but there is a nasal form also. All flu vaccines for the 2022-23 season are quadrivalent vaccines. This means they protect against four different flu viruses, including two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. Most children and adults under 65 will get the standard quadrivalent flu vaccine. There are several manufacturers, but a few common ones are Fluzone and Flublok.
Due to changes in an aging immune system, older adults have a less robust response to influenza vaccines. There are two types of vaccines that are recommended for persons 65 years and older; high dose vaccine and adjuvanted flu vaccine.
High dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against the virus) as a regular flu shot. Fluzone High Dose Quadrivalent is approved for people 65 years and older. Adjuvanted flu vaccine is made with an ingredient (an adjuvant) that helps create a stronger immune response.
Fluad Quadravalent vaccine is also approved specifically for those 65 years and older. Some vaccines are grown in eggs while some are completely egg free. The nasal spray vaccine (FluMist) is a live attenuated (weakened) virus approved for those 2 years to 49 years. FluMist vaccine is not approved to use in those pregnant, immunocompromised or people with certain medical conditions.
Speak to your provider or pharmacist to determine what is the best influenza vaccine for you. To get your flu shot, make an appointment with your primary care provider or visit UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - West, located at 2255 JFK Road in Dubuque. Learn more.
Greg Brosius, Pharm. D, is the Director of Pharmacy at UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital.