Every year the Centers for Disease Control releases new recommendations about vaccination against influenza, because every year the viruses that cause the illness change. That means the vaccines against the virus have to change too. Some populations, like the elderly or very young children, are particularly at risk for developing complications if they get "the flu," so the vaccine recommendations for them are very important. There are several different types of the vaccine available, but the CDC says kids should get injectable, not nasal, vaccine to fight the flu this year. In previous flu seasons, an alternative to the traditional "flu shot" has been available in the form of a nasal spray.
Live Attenuated Influenza Virus (LAIV) vaccine, sometimes called FluMist, is a nasal spray that gets spritzed up a person's nose (like those bottles of saline or something like Flonase) and releases a live (but weakened) virus into the person's body to help them develop antibodies against the flu for the whole season.
But experts have been looking at the use of FluMist over the last few seasons and have found that it hasn't worked well to prevent the flu in adults or kids. Although the needle-free option has been popular, especially with youngsters, experts say that the nasal spray version just hasn't proven effective enough against the flu.
A statement released by AstraZeneca, the company that manufactures the nasal spray, back in June stated:
The US CDC effectiveness data for 2015-2016 season contrast with studies by AstraZeneca as well as preliminary independent findings by public health authorities in other countries1 2. These findings demonstrate FluMistQuadrivalent was 46-58% effective overall against the circulating influenza strains during the 2015-2016 season. As influenza vaccine effectiveness varies from season to season, it is evaluated in annual observational studies. The CDC states that when there is a good match between the strains in the vaccine and those that circulate during the influenza season, vaccines are typically 50-60% effective.3 AstraZeneca is working with the CDC to better understand its data to help ensure eligible patients continue to receive the vaccine in future seasons in the US.
Though the company doesn't agree with the CDC's findings, here's what the CDC had to say.
What's New About The Flu This Year?
The 2016-2017 flu season is projected to introduce a few new strains of the flu, too, which isn't unusual. Flu viruses, like any virus, evolve and grow resistant to preventative measures and treatments over time. That's why new vaccines have to be developed each year: not just because there will be new strains of the flu, but because the old strains have become immune to old vaccines.
The general recommendation from the CDC is that everyone aged 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu by the end of October each year. Even if you don't have the chance to get vaccinated by the end of the fall season, the CDC says that's OK – as vaccination remains ongoing well into January.
What If My Child Is Allergic To Eggs?
One thing you might not know about the flu vaccine is that the virus is incubated in chicken eggs before being manufactured into a syringe and sent off to your doctor's office or local pharmacy. For years it was believed that people who were allergic to eggs couldn't get a flu shot — but there are alternative versions of the vaccines for individuals with the food allergy. This means that even if your child has an allergy to eggs, it's still safe for them to get vaccinated against the flu.
In fact, the CDC made a statement this year regarding childhood egg allergies and flu vaccines, stating that no additional precautions are needed, meaning that the current vaccines being used are safe for those with the allergy.
What If My Family Gets The Flu Anyway?
Even if you get vaccinated, it's still possible for you or a member of your family to get influenza this year. That's because, even though the vaccine protects against most strains, it doesn't protect against all of them. The big reason for this is because there could be a strain so new that scientists didn't even know about it when they were making this year's vaccine.
Most people who get the flu won't have serious complications. But if you're pregnant, are taking care of an elderly parent or grandparent, or have babies and toddlers at home, you should be aware of some complications from the flu that can arise.
Typical symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
But if these symptoms persist for longer than two weeks, the person may be headed for complications, some of which could require a hospital stay. People who have conditions that affect their lungs may be more at risk for complications like pneumonia, which can become quite serious and even fatal. Those with chronic medical conditions, like heart disease, cancer or inflammatory diseases may be more at risk for developing sepsis, a possibly fatal infection.
That's why the CDC urges everyone to get vaccinated, even if they are otherwise healthy — you never know when you'll come in contact with someone who has a weakened immune system and unwittingly pass the flu virus on to them.