The Flu Vaccine is Set to Receive a Major Overhaul


Each year autumn brings the changing colors of leaves, football, the World Series, and preparations for the holiday season. Unfortunately, autumn also brings the beginning of influenza season and the need for our annual “flu shot.” Some of this year’s flu vaccines will, however, contain latest advances in biomedical technology to increase efficacy.

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Immunization Against a Wider Variety of Influenza Viruses

This year’s flu vaccines will immunize, based on last year’s experiences, against the three most commonly anticipated viruses. However, some vaccines will also immunize against a fourth virus that appeared only at the end of last year’s season. In either case, the CDC and the vaccine manufacturers estimate that the 2016-2017 vaccines will be at least 70% effective in preventing influenza.

Different Vaccines for Special At-Risk Groups

It has long been known that not everyone is subject to the same risks of complications from a bout of influenza. For example, patients undergoing cancer treatment and those with heart conditions or lung disease are particularly at risk of developing pneumonia during or immediately after an attack of influenza. Since such groups often have weakened immune systems, they also produce less antibodies against the influenza virus.

Vaccines containing higher levels of influenza viral antigens (proteins found in the material that encases each type of virus), which should help increase the body’s immune response, will be available this year for use in high risk groups.

Influenza Vaccine and Egg Allergy

In the past, many vaccines including influenza vaccines, were manufactured by injecting intentionally-weakened virus strains into chicken eggs which were later processed into vaccines. This manufacturing process, although cost-effective and efficient, meant that it was potentially unsafe to administer the influenza vaccine to those individuals who were allergic to eggs and egg products.

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Vaccines made from eggs will still comprise the majority of vaccinations administered this year, but a new process that utilizes viruses grown in tissue cultures other than eggs will be available to those with known or suspected egg allergies. Anyone who knows, or suspects, that they might be allergic to egg products should make sure that their health care provider is aware of their concerns so that the alternate vaccine can be used.

Nasal Spray Vaccine No Longer Recommended

Aside from the already-mentioned changes in the composition of this year’s flu vaccines is the change in the CDC’s position regarding the use of inhaled influenza vaccines (the “nasal spray” vaccines). Due to concerns regarding their effectiveness, the CDC is no longer suggesting the use of nasal spray immunization as an alternative to the traditional injectable vaccine. The nasal spray version of the vaccine will still be available if requested, but its use in those considered to be at a higher risk for potential complications of influenza is being discouraged in favor of the new injectable vaccine.

Who Should Receive This Year’s Influenza Vaccine?

The CDC recommends that influenza immunization be offered to, among others:

  • Children of ages 6 to 48 months
  • Women who are, or anticipating becoming, pregnant
  • Those of any age that have a chronic health condition such as heart disease, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), certain neurological conditions, or those undergoing treatment for cancer
  • Residents of long term care facilities

As always, the decision to receive an immunization should include a discussion with a health care provider as to the need for immunization as well as the type of vaccine that is the most for the individual.

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