(AP) – Doctors have a message for Americans tired of vaccines: Don’t skip your flu shot this fall — and seniors, ask for a special extra-strength shot.
While there’s no way to predict if the United States will be so hard hit, “last year we entered flu season not knowing if the flu was around or not. This year we know the flu is back,” said flu specialist Richard Webby of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Annual flu shots are recommended from babies of 6 months. The flu is most dangerous for people 65 and older, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions, including heart and lung disease.
Here’s what you need to know:
AWAKENING BLOWS FOR SENIORS
As people age, their immune system does not react as strongly to the standard flu shot. This year, people 65 or older are urged to get a special type for extra protection.
There are three choices. Fluzone High-Dose and Flublok each contain higher doses of the main flu-fighting ingredient. The other option is Fluad Adjuvanted, which has a regular dosage but contains a special ingredient that helps boost people’s immune response.
Older people can ask what type their doctor wears. But most flu shots are given at pharmacies, and some pharmacy websites, such as CVS, automatically direct people to places that offer doses for seniors if their date of birth indicates they’re eligible.
Webby advised making sure older relatives and friends are aware of seniors’ vaccines, in case they are not told when they are getting their shots.
“They should at least ask, ‘Do you have the best shots for me?’” Webby said. “The main thing is that they work better” for this age group.
If a place no longer has doses targeted for seniors, it’s best to get the standard flu shot rather than skip the shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All flu shots in the United States — including the types intended for people under 65 — are “quadrivalent,” meaning they protect against four different strains of flu. Young people also have options, including injections for people with egg allergies and a nasal spray version called FluMist.
WHY FLU EXPERTS ARE ON ALERT
Australia has just had its worst flu season in five years, and what happens in southern hemisphere winters often foreshadows what northern countries can expect, said Dr Andrew Pekosz of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
And people have largely abandoned masking and distancing precautions that earlier in the pandemic also helped prevent the spread of other respiratory insects like the flu.
“This poses a risk, especially for young children who may not have had previous exposure to influenza viruses before this season,” Pekosz added.
“This year we will have a true flu season like we saw before the pandemic,” said Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.
He said children’s hospitals were already seeing an unusual early spike in other respiratory infections, including RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, and feared the flu could also strike earlier than usual – as it did. in Australia.
The CDC advises a flu shot by the end of October, but says it can be given any time during flu season. It takes about two weeks for the protection to install.
The United States expects 173 million to 183 million doses this year. And yes, you can get a flu shot and an updated COVID-19 booster at the same time – one in each arm to dull the pain.
THE FLU HOLIDAYS OF THE FUTURE
Companies that make the two most widely used COVID-19 vaccines are currently testing flu shots made with the same technology. One reason: When the flu mutates, recipes for so-called mRNA vaccines could update faster than today’s flu shots, most of which are made by growing the flu virus in chicken eggs.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are enrolling 25,000 healthy American adults to receive either its experimental flu vaccine or a regular one to see how effective the new approach proves this flu season.
Rival Moderna has tested its version on around 6,000 people in Australia, Argentina and other countries during the Southern Hemisphere flu season and is awaiting results.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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