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Benefits outweigh the risks as far as flu shots go

October 25, 2013

The flu vaccine is widely available this year, and as usual Yale Medical Group doctors are encouraging all patients to get vaccinated. The vaccine is important for everyone—and could be critical if a chronic or serious illness puts you at high risk for complications from the flu.

“We make a special effort to make sure everyone is vaccinated,” says Peter Ellis, MD, an internist with Yale Internal Medicine Associates. Even if you’re not at high risk, chances are you interact with someone who is, such as a child, a pregnant woman or someone with a compromised immune system. “It’s a safe vaccine, and certainly the benefits outweigh the risks—anyone who has had the flu will tell you it’s miserable. Most of my patients who have had the flu remember it, and they’re converts,” Dr. Ellis says.

This year, there are more types of flu vaccinations available than ever before, but not all doctors will have every choice in stock. You may ask about:

  • A boost in protection. For years, vaccines in the United States were developed to protect against three strains of flu. “Trivalent” shots are still available to protect against two type A viruses, H1N1 and H3N2, and one type B virus. This year, a new “quadrivalent” vaccine protects against four influenza viruses that are considered to be among the most likely viruses to circulate during the year’s flu season. The quadrivalent vaccine may not be available everywhere, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend one flu vaccine over the other.
  • Options if you have an egg allergy. Most people with egg allergies can safely receive conventional flu shots, but you can request an alternative such as the new “recombinant” protein vaccine approved only for 18- to 49-year-olds. This vaccine is made through genetic engineering and is egg-free.
  • Possibly avoiding the needle. The Fluzone vaccine is a high dose flu shot designed to give people 65 and older more protection. For people 18 to 64, there is an intra-dermal injection that uses an ultra-fine needle only 1.5 mm long, injected into the skin instead of the muscle. While most vaccines are still injected, healthy people age 2 to 49 years can request an alternative FluMist intranasal spray live attenuated influenza vaccine, which will be quadrivalent.

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for all persons aged 6 months and older, with rare exceptions. Vaccination is particularly important if you are at increased risk for severe complications from influenza, or who are at high risk for influenza-related outpatient, emergency department or hospital visits.

If you do get the flu, talk to your doctor about antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) to help reduce the risk of complications. Visit the CDC's HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find flu shot locations. You should call the location ahead of time to make sure they have the vaccine in stock.

Submitted by Claire M. Bessinger - Van Graan on October 30, 2013