Although it still may feel like summer in many parts of the United States, it's not too early to get your flu shot. But before you do, there's some new information (as well as a lot of misinformation).
It's no longer "just" a flu shot. This year brings many different choices of shots.
- Standard three-strain (or trivalent) vaccine. This is what we're all used to. It's the version that protects against three strains of flu. The vaccine is manufactured by using a virus grown in eggs. It's injected into the muscle of your upper arm (c'mon, be brave—it barely hurts) and protects against two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus.
- Standard four-strain (or quadrivalent) vaccine. New this year, this vaccine protects against four strains of flu, with an additional B strain added to the mix. Since it's new, you might not find it at your doctor or pharmacy; it's being produced in more limited quantities than is the three-strain vaccine. However, this may be the way vaccines will be produced in the future, since it has the potential to offer added protection.
- High-dose vaccine. If you're 65 and over, this might be a good choice, because it can rev up a lagging immune system (more common as we age). It protects against the usual three strains of flu and can offer about 25 percent better coverage compared with a standard dose vaccine.
- A less painful vaccine. If you're needle-phobic and over 49, this may be for you. Fluzone Intradermal is kinder and gentler: it's not injected into your muscle, but instead, into your skin. And the needle is about 90 percent smaller than the needle used for traditional flu vaccines.
- Egg-free standard dose trivalent. Although the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) points to recent research maintaining the safety of flu vaccines for individuals with confirmed egg allergies, many people allergic to eggs shy away from the vaccine (because it does contain some amount of egg protein). This year there's an egg-free vaccine called Flublok, available to adults 18 and older.
- Nasal spray vaccine. If you'd rather not deal with needles, the flu vaccine can be administered via a nasal spray. FluMist Quadrivalent protects against four strains of flu. Two caveats, though: It's not recommended for people over age 49 or for pregnant women.
And now for the misinformation:
You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reasons people get sick with flu-like symptoms after getting a flu vaccine can be:
- You may have been exposed to the flu before getting vaccinated or in the two-week period it takes for the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated.
- You may get ill from other (non-flu) viruses that may be circulating, such as rhinovirus, which can cause flu-like symptoms.
- You may be exposed to a flu virus that has not been included in the seasonal vaccine. Flu vaccines are manufactured by the strains that research suggests will be most common, but that doesn't mean it's always an accurate guess.
- You may be among those who get the flu despite getting vaccinated, because protection can vary widely depending on health and age.