Getting to Know the Flu Shot

By Donna Barhorst MD

When it comes to flu vaccines, some of us may have questions or concerns about receiving them. Get to know all the basics of the flu vaccine with this article.

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Influenza, or “the flu,” is a serious respiratory disease caused by a virus in which the sufferer experiences symptoms such as fever, body aches, sore throat, headache, coughing, congestion, and fatigue. We all know this, but when it comes to flu vaccines, some of us may have questions or concerns about receiving them. This is why we have written this informative article highlighting the basics that everyone should know about flu vaccines.

First off, flu vaccines should be given as soon as they are available. Autumn is the prime time to vaccinate for maximum protection, though you may choose to get one anytime through spring of the following year. Annual vaccinations against Influenza is recommended for all people ages 6 months and older who do not have contraindication to the vaccine (see below for contraindications).

There are several flu vaccines available this season, for adults and for children ages 6 months to 18 years alike. These vaccines are:
  1. Trivalent. This vaccine contains exposure to 3 viruses – two strains of A Influenza and one B Influenza strain, as well as the A-H1N1 virus that was active in the 2010 and 2011. The trivalent vaccine can be given in several forms, including injections, nasal sprays*, and preservative-free (thimerosal-free) formulations.
  2. Quadrivalent. This seasonal vaccine contains exposure to 4 viruses – two strains of A Influenza and two strains of B Influenza. The quadrivalent vaccine can be administered by nasal spray* or injection.
*The nasal formulation contains a live but weakened virus and can be given to children over the age of two, who do not have hypersensitivity to eggs or a history of asthma or recent or recurrent wheezing, high risk medical condition, or are on long term aspirin therapy.

The dosing schedule for the Influenza vaccination is as follows:
  • Children ages 6 months to 8 years should receive two doses of the flu vaccine, which should occur at least four weeks apart, if they have not previously received two doses of the seasonal flu vaccine after July 2010. If they have had at least two doses during a recent, previous season and at least one dose of a vaccine containing the 2009 pandemic H1N1 strain, they will only need one dose.
  • Adults and children over age 9 need only one dose of the vaccine each season.
A contraindication is defined as “a reason that makes it inadvisable to prescribe a particular drug or treatment.” Some contraindications to getting the flu vaccine would be if you or your child has a history of serious systemic or anaphylactic reaction to a prior dose of the vaccine or any of its components, or if you have a mild allergy to eggs. In rare cases, Guillain-Barre Syndrome may occur within six weeks following a dose of the flu vaccine, which would cause for precaution to receiving flu vaccines in the future.

Other things to keep in mind when considering getting the flu vaccine are the complications of the flu itself. If the sufferer is very young or old, the complications of the flu can be especially serious. No one likes getting sick, but being aware of these complications may help you decide to get yourself or your children vaccinated.
  • About 100 children in the U.S. die every year of complications of Influenza. Children under a year of age at the highest risk.
  • 20,000 children younger than five years old are hospitalized every year due to complications of Influenza.
  • Other common complications include secondary ear and sinus infections, bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
  • School aged children may have to stay home from school for up to seven days with fever and lethargy.
For more information on the flu vaccine and locations of where to get vaccinated, visit www.immunize-utah.org.