By Jorge Rubal, CEO & Medical Director,
Laguna Beach Community Clinic
It may seem a little early to start talking about it, but it’s actually the perfect time. Yes, I am talking about the flu vaccine, this very important health topic that affects us all.
The best way to protect yourself from immunization-preventable diseases is to vaccinate. Not only will doing so protect you, but it will help safeguard the health of family, friends, and others in the community. This sounds simple enough, but there are many questions that arise with vaccines, in particular with the flu vaccine: Who should get it? Which one is best for me? I never get sick, and the last time I got the flu vaccine I ended up in bed for 2 weeks, so why repeat that? I am allergic to eggs, so I can’t receive the vaccine, right?
Before we answer the questions above, let’s first discuss what the flu is and why it is so important. Influenza is an acute respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses. It occurs in epidemics nearly every year, mainly during the winter season in temperate climates. Influenza causes more than 200,000 people in the US to be hospitalized every year. Up to 56,000 people die each year from flu-related causes.
The United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends influenza vaccination for all individuals six months of age and older. A single dose of an influenza vaccine should be offered soon after the vaccine becomes available, ideally by October. Annual immunization is necessary, because immunity declines during the year following vaccination.
The choice of vaccine formulation depends upon several factors, including age, other illnesses, and risk of adverse reactions. The following is a quick reference:
–For healthy non-pregnant adults between 18 and 49 years of age, we use either an inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) or the live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV).
–We use an inactivated influenza vaccine in those patients in whom the safety and/or efficacy of LAIV has not been established, including:
1. Adults 50 years of age or older
2. Individuals who are immunocompromised
3. Patients with chronic cardiovascular, pulmonary, or metabolic disease
4. Pregnant women
5. Those with egg allergy.
–For individuals 65 years of age or older, we recommend the high-dose inactivated influenza vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose) when available rather than a standard-dose inactivated influenza vaccine.
Think the flu vaccine can give you the flu? It can’t. The vaccine is made with a dead or weakened form of the flu virus, which can’t give you influenza. Since there are many different strains of the influenza virus, it’s not possible to create a vaccine that covers all of them.
Every year scientists cull data to make a well-informed prediction about which strains they are most concerned about for the current season. Though you may catch a different strain than the one targeted by the vaccine, the good news is that you should have an attenuated course of illness. In fact, many experts state that the vaccine is not really so much to prevent the flu, but rather it is to prevent complications of the flu, which are what end up hospitalizing and killing people.
IIVs and LAIVs contain a small amount of egg protein. The amount of egg protein in the vaccines has decreased significantly over the years. No serious reactions have been reported after administration of egg-based LAIV or IIV in recipients with an egg allergy, including in those with a history of anaphylaxis. Therefore, even with a known egg allergy, it is completely fine to get the flu vaccine without additional evaluation.
So as we enter the fall season, our calendars will be filled with social functions for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Holiday Season, and the New Year. Therefore, let’s all be good neighbors and help protect each other by getting the flu vaccine.
For more information on the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, go to www.lbclinic.org.