Who cares about the flu shot?

“Flu vaccination is still the most effective way to prevent flu.” -The CDC

There has already been a lot of heated discussion in social media forums this season about the safety and efficacy of influenza vaccination. As a healthCARE professional this pains me. I hear push back every year about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, particularly about the flu, but I’ll never stop being amazed.

As a mom of 2 small children it terrifies me to hear that 183 children died of the flu last year. Yes, I know, the vaccine last year was only 40% effective (meaning that it reduced your overall risk of having to seek medical care at a doctor’s office by 40%). However, flu vaccination is still the most effective way to prevent flu.

The influenza virus is a highly changeable virus – it mutates constantly. So, every year the CDC and WHO get together and decide which strains of influenza virus the updated flu vaccine should cover (yeah statistics!). That’s partly why it’s recommended that you get a new one each year. The other reason is that your immunity (i.e. protection) wanes over the course of the year and needs to be boosted.

The CDC has described the last flu season (2017-2018) as a high severity season among all age groups, meaning that rates of outpatient clinic visits, ED visits, and hospitalizations for influenza like illness were higher than usual. It’s difficult to say how many people died due to flu though, as it’s not required to report adult deaths due to flu to the CDC (this is required for children only). As a result, the National Center for Health Statistics Mortality Reporting System groups pneumonia and influenza (P&I) into a single category for cause of death. Having said that,

For 4 consecutive weeks last season Pneumonia and Influenza accounted for greater than 10% of all reported deaths, peaking the week of January 20th.

And the estimated number of total deaths due to influenza in the US last season was 79,000.

Hopefully at this point you’re thinking about popping down to your local pharmacy to get your flu shot. If so, here’s the low-down on this year’s updated influenza vaccine options for you to consider.

The 2018-2019 trivalent (3 strain) flu vaccines cover:

  1. A/Michigan/(H1N1)
  2. A/Singapore/(H3N2)-(updated!)
  3. B/Colorado/(Victoria lineage)-(updated!)

The 2018-2019 quadrivalent (4 strain) vaccines cover 1 additional strain:

  1. B/Phuket/(Yamagata lineage)

So how do you choose whether to get the trivalent or quadrivalent shot?

This year, for the first time ever, the quadrivalent flu vaccine is being offered as the main line option in most pharmacies and doctor’s offices. This is because most insurance companies are (finally) paying for the quadrivalent vaccine. Choosing the vaccine with more coverage is now no longer a cost consideration (it used to cost $15-20 more), so I would definitely recommend asking for this one when you go in for your annual influenza vaccination.

What else do I need to consider to get the RIGHT vaccine for ME?

Exciting news for people afraid of needles! After a 2 year hiatus, the live attenuated (weakened virus) nasal spray is once again being offered. It can be used in non-pregnant individuals aged 2-49. Since it is a live vaccine, you can expect to have some mild flu-like symptoms and a runny nose for a day or two (the trade-off for not wanting to use a needle).

For anyone over the age of 65, there are again TWO options for improved vaccine performance. FluAd, first offered 2 years ago, is an adjuvant vaccine – it’s had something “added” to it to make your immune system respond better to the vaccine, giving you better protection. The second option is High Dose (HD) which contains 4 times the normal amount of viral antigen (active ingredient) as the regular flu shot and provides better protection for older adults.

All that being said, the CDC (still) does not recommend one vaccine over the other for influenza protection.

As the season progresses, you can follow along with local flu activity updates posted by the CDC to stay in the know about what’s happening in your community. Check out the CDC’s interactive map here which goes live Oct 12th and is updated weekly.

So this is it in a nutshell: the flu shot, though not 100% effective, can still provide significant protection from a serious illness and has minimal risk of causing harm. The best way to stay healthy is prevention. If you haven’t already, please go get your flu shot today!

To learn more about RxLive  medication counseling services, contact us at kristen@rxlive.com.

You may also want to check out the following:

How Pharmacists And Pharmacogenomics Can Shorten Your Medication Prescribing ‘Odyssey’ And Improve Your Patients’ Health

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Kristen Engelen, PharmD
Kristen Engelen, PharmD, is the chief pharmacy officer of RxLive and a certified consultant pharmacist; she has over a decade of experience in retail pharmacy settings. Kristen became an RxLive co-founder because of her passion for geriatric pharmacy, with a focus on the intersection of pharmacy and aging.