Flu season is just around the bend — and that means it’s time to get vaccinated.
Only 42 percent of Americans get their yearly flu shot — a number that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) deems “unacceptably low.” Between 5 percent and 20 percent of all Americans contract the flu each year depending on the severity of the flu season, leading to over 200,000 flu-related hospitalizations and anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 deaths annually.
But an eclectic collection of flu shots this year could encourage more people to get vaccinated by giving them convenient options to choose from. Over a dozen varieties of the influenza vaccine — including new shots for people with egg allergies, recent innovations that can protect against more strains of the flu, and choices for those who aren’t fans of the needle — will be available to Americans throughout the country. Here are some of the flu shot types you can choose from:
1. Vaccines that protect against as many as four strains of the flu.
Current flu vaccines typically protect against three strains of the flu — two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B. But new, so-called “quadrivalent” super vaccines add a second strain of influenza B to that list, and experts contend that this will protect against “the vast majority” of Type B virus-induced influenza.
Unfortunately, only about 21 percent of the 139 million flu shots that will be made available this fall will be quadrivalent. But researchers have been experimenting with a potential new “universal” flu vaccine that could be used as protection against the majority of flu pandemics in the future. That would be particularly convenient since it takes about six months in order to develop shots for new strains of the virus.
2. Stronger vaccines for elderly Americans.
As people grow older, their bodies’ ability to produce antibodies and virus-fighting cells declines steadily. That means their immune systems get weaker and more susceptible to afflictions like the flu. In fact, the CDC estimates that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and over 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations every year occur in people 65 years and older.
That makes it especially important for the elderly not just to get their shots — but to get shots with higher doses of the vaccine than younger Americans. Andrew Pekosz, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins, told USA Today that these high-dose shots also come with stronger reactions to getting vaccinated, like sore arms, but that shouldn’t deter those aged 65 and over considering the risks of getting the flu.
3. “Micro-needles” and nasal sprays that could be a big relief for children and the needle-averse.
The other group that is particularly vulnerable to the flu is children, making it critical for parents to get them their shots. In fact, 90 percent of children who died from influenza this past year did not get vaccinated.
The nasal spray flu vaccine is a popular choice among children for obvious reasons. And this flu season, the nasal spray variety comes with the added bonus of being a quadrivalent vaccine. For adults aged 18 and up that don’t like the standard one-inch vaccination needles, the Fluzone intradermal shot utilizes a micro-needle that only pierces the skin. Most flu shots usually involve injections directly into the muscle.
4. Acceptable vaccines for people with egg allergies.
Producing flu shots has long involved growing the virus within chicken eggs — that’s why doctors ask whether or not you’re allergic to eggs before you get your flu shot. As USA Today points out, this method comes with certain risks, like when doctors had to wait for chickens to lay more eggs in order to produce the H1N1 vaccine during the 2009 pandemic.
But this year, at least two types of flu vaccine — cell-culture vaccines and “recombinant protein” vaccines — will contain zero egg products. The former will be made using animal cell cultures, while the latter is synthesized through pure genetic engineering by growing a small piece of the virus.