One Major Change to This Year’s Flu Shot Recommendation

One Major Change to This Year’s Flu Shot Recommendation

It’s flu season again. And yes, the best way to protect yourself from coming down with the virus is still a vaccine.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made that message loud and clear Thursday at the annual National Foundation for Infectious Diseases press conference on flu vaccines.

“If we could increase vaccination coverage in this country by just five percent more, that would prevent about 800,000 illnesses and nearly 10,000 hospitalizations,” said Frieden. “Flu vaccine is one of the best buys in public health.”

How 2016’s vaccine is different than last year

This year, there are two basic types of flu vaccines: one that protects against three strains of flu, and one that protects against four.

Both flu vaccines protect against the strains seen early in the season in the U.S., including the commonly known H1N1 (swine flu), H3N3 and a Type B strain. The only difference between the two is that the “quadrivalent” vaccine also protects against a second Type B strain.

While it seems logical that more coverage is better, the CDC doesn’t have a recommendation for which one to get ― just that you scoop up whichever shot is available.

“The problem is that a vaccination deferred is often a vaccination forgotten,” Frieden explained. In other words, it’s most important that you get a shot soon rather than holding out for one you might prefer.

There is one big change to the CDC’s flu shot recommendations: People who were counting on the nasal spray form of the vaccine will have to settle for a shot. The CDC recommends only the injection for preventing the flu for the 2016-17 season after concerns arose last year about the effectiveness of the spray.

Of the 144 million Americans who got vaccinated against the flu last year, about 20 million opted for the nasal spray.

Don’t wait until the last minute to get your shot

Last year’s flu season was moderate; there were fewer doctor’s visits, hospitalizations and deaths linked to flu and pneumonia compared to the preceding three seasons. The 2015-16 season started picking up in late December and continued to swell through early March, but don’t wait until the beginning of this December to get inoculated.

For one reason, it takes time to build the antibodies to fight the flu. In adults, the shot takes effect after about two weeks. For kids under eight who may need two shots to be fully vaccinated, injections have to be spaced more than four weeks apart, so the earlier they get the first shot, the better.

Secondly, there’s no way to predict when you’re going to come into contact with someone who has the flu and could spread it to you. It’s best to be vaccinated before the virus starts sweeping through your community.

Ideally, the CDC says, everyone should get their flu vaccine by the end of October, although shots received later in the year will still be beneficial.