In response to lessons learned from the 2009-2010 H1N1 flu pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all Americans age six months and older get a flu shot this season.
Exceptions include people with egg allergies, people who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, and infants younger than six months.
“Though it’s never too late to get the flu shot, the earlier people get the vaccine, the better,” said Anat R. Feingold, MD, Head of Cooper’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease. “Immunity will last well through the entire season,” she said.
The official flu season is September through March, but the flu tends to peak in December, January, and February.
Dr. Feingold noted that data from last year showed that children were disproportionately affected by the H1N1 flu. “It’s not always a mild illness,” Dr. Feingold said, “and we need to protect (vaccinate) every child we can because that’s how we help protect the rest of the population, especially those who cannot be vaccinated or respond well to the vaccine.”
Pregnant women are another high-risk group for whom immunization is particularly important.
According to Richard L. Fischer, MD, Head of Cooper’s Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, “Pregnant women are far more susceptible to pneumonia and respiratory distress than non-pregnant women. Plus, studies show that by immunizing the mother, it creates antibodies that cross the placenta and protect the newborn child from infection during the first months of life,” he said.
Three-In-One Flu Vaccine
The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against three viruses: an influenza A H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the 2009 H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season. This three-in-one vaccine will be available as both a nasal spray, which contains the attenuated (weakened) virus, and as an injection (a shot), which contains the inactivated virus.
“It’s important for people to realize that neither form of the vaccine – the nasal spray or the injection – gives people the flu,” Dr. Feingold said.
Dr. Fischer noted that the nasal spray is not recommended for women who are pregnant. “Pregnant women should receive the vaccine only by injection,” he said.
Both Drs. Feingold and Fischer stressed that there is no risk of acquiring the flu from being immunized.
Availability of this season’s flu vaccine is predicted to be excellent.