Flu Season Already?

Adam Miller PharmD.

As we wind through August, with summer still on our minds, it’s hard to fathom the rains and winds of fall, winter coats, sniffles, colds and the flu are right around the corner.  It is however nearing the time of year when your doctor will be asking, “Have you received your flu shot yet?” and the radio and TV will be advertising “Flu shots now available”.  So, who should get flu shot? When should you get a flu shot? And how do they know if the vaccine is even going to cover the flu this year?

According to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) age data was available for 87.6% of confirmed cases of the flu (47,121) and of those cases

3,802 (8.1%) were aged 0–4 years;

11,550 (24.5%), 5–24 years;

15,597 (33.1%), 25–64 years; and

16,172 (34.3%), ≥65 years.

What does this mean to you? By examining this data, it shows the confirmed cases of the flu increased with age.  While this data doesn’t show how many people were vaccinated in each age group, I think it’s safe to say, knowing the older you are the more decline you will have in your immune function. It is because of this fact the further along in life you are, the greater the need to be vaccinated. I would also have to imagine that most of the children in the smallest percentile (0-4) years old were probably vaccinated and thus showed the fewest positive cases, but that is just an assumption on my part.

The CDC also stated that the 2017–18 influenza season (October 1, 2017–May 19, 2018) was a High Severity season, with the peak of the season coming during three weeks in January, and the highest incidences occurring the week ending the 6th of January 2018.

It takes approximately 14 days for your body to fully build up the antibodies after receiving a vaccine, so you should consider this when you schedule your vaccine.  Last year, flu season began in October so that would mean you would want to receive your vaccine by the middle of September to be fully covered for the duration of the season.  One other thing to note when considering when to get the vaccine is availability, each season there is a limited supply of the vaccine produced, so there may not be any left if you delay your vaccination, especially the high dose formulated for seniors.  But will it even work?

Each year scientists at the CDC pour over all of the data from previous years, strains of the viruses and regional distributions to formulate a vaccine that they believe will cover the predominant strain for the upcoming year.  They use the best information that they have available to create the best and most effective vaccine for the strain of viruses targeted.  Is this vaccine guaranteed to cover the predominant strain? No. It is, however, formulated to vaccinate against certain strains.  What does that mean to you?  Well, it means that when you receive the vaccine your body will create antibodies against a strain of flu virus covered by the vaccine, but that may not be the strain in your area, although it could be.  There are many different strains of the flu and by getting the flu vaccine you will be immunized against some of them, if you don’t get the vaccine, right or wrong you won’t be covered against any of them.

The flu vaccine is unlike many vaccines in the fact that, while it is formulated to immunize against the flu, it may not be the one in your area.  Like any other medicine on the market you need to weigh the risks and benefits to see what side you fall on. Personally I feel that I would rather be vaccinated against the strains the experts are putting their stamp on, than none of strains and betting that the experts are wrong anyways. If you would like more information you should contact your doctor and can find the information stated in this article at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6722a4.htm?s_cid=mm6722a4_w