Updated: Wednesday, 17 Jun 2009, 2:07 PM EDT
Published : Sunday, 12 Oct 2008, 10:25 AM EDT
New Haven (WTNH) -
Health experts are already advising people they should get their flu shot.
On Good Morning Connecticut Sunday Dr. David Katz from Yale New Haven Hospital answered some common questions about the flu, and whether you need a shot.
Below are some of those frequently asked questions and answers complied by Dr. Katz.
When should I get a flu vaccination?
Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get their
flu vaccine as soon as vaccine becomes available in their
community. Vaccination before December is best since this timing
ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity
is typically at its highest. CDC continues to encourage people to
get vaccinated throughout the flu season, which can begin as early
as October and last
as late as May.
Over the course of the flu season, many different influenza viruses can circulate at different times and in different places. As long as flu viruses are still spreading in the community, vaccination can provide protective benefit.
In addition, there are other people who may benefit from vaccination as late or April or May, even if influenza viruses are no longer circulating in the United States. This includes:
Persons likely to be traveling to the Southern Hemisphere where influenza may be circulating before the 2009-10 vaccine is available, and Children younger than 9 being vaccinated for the first time who still have not received their second recommended dose of vaccine.
(If they get their second dose, then they will only need one dose of vaccine next season. If they do not get their second dose, they will still need to get two doses of vaccine the next season in order to best be protected by the vaccine. This is because studies have shown that two doses are needed in children younger than 9 the first year they are vaccinated in order to maximize the protective benefit from vaccination.)
Once you get vaccinated, your body makes protective antibodies in about two weeks. However, children younger than 9 years old who are being vaccinated for the first time still need a second dose 4 or more weeks later in order to be protected.
Does getting vaccinated against flu early in the season pose a risk that immunity may wane before the end of the season?
Flu vaccination provides protection against the influenza strains contained in the vaccine through one influenza season. Vaccination can begin as soon as vaccine is available. Studies have not demonstrated a benefit of receiving more than one dose during an influenza season, even among elderly persons with weakened immune systems.
Is it too late to get vaccinated after Thanksgiving (or the end of November)?
No. CDC recommends that providers begin to offer influenza vaccination as soon as vaccine becomes available in the fall, but if you have not been vaccinated by Thanksgiving (or the end of November), it can still be protective to get vaccinated in December or later because influenza disease usually peaks in January or February most years, and disease can occur as late as May.
Does flu vaccine work right away?
No. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. That's why it's better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season really gets under way.
Can I get the flu even though I got a flu vaccine this year?
Yes. The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends on two things:
If the viruses in the vaccine and the influenza viruses circulating in the community are closely matched, vaccine effectiveness is higher. If they are not closely matched, vaccine effectiveness can be reduced. However, it's important to remember that even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications. Such protection is possible because antibodies made in response to the vaccine can provide some protection (called cross-protection) against different, but related strains of influenza viruses. For more information about vaccine effectiveness, visit How Well Does the Seasonal Flu Vaccine WorK?
Why do I need to get vaccinated against the flu every year?
Flu viruses change from year to year, which means two things. First, you can get the flu more than once during your lifetime. The immunity (natural protection that develops against a disease after a person has had that disease) that is built up from having the flu caused by one virus strain doesn't always provide protection when a new strain is circulating. Second, a vaccine made against flu viruses circulating last year may not protect against the newer viruses. That is why the influenza vaccine is updated to include current viruses every year.
Another reason to get flu vaccine every year is that after you get vaccinated your immunity declines over time and may be too low to provide protection after a year.
How are the viruses for flu vaccine selected?
Each year, many laboratories throughout the world, including in the United States, collect flu viruses. Some of these flu viruses are sent to one of four World Health Organization (WHO) reference laboratories, one of which is at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, for detailed testing. These laboratories also test how well antibodies made to the current vaccine react to the circulating virus and new flu viruses. This information, along with information about flu activity, is summarized and presented to an advisory committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and at a WHO meeting. These meetings result in the selection of three viruses (two subtypes of influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus) to go into flu vaccines for the following fall and winter. Usually, one or two of the three virus strains in the vaccine are changed each year.
Why do manufacturers and distributors take a phased approach to vaccine distribution?
Influenza vaccine production begins as early as 6-9 months before the beginning of vaccine distribution. Even with this early start, it isn't possible to complete the entire production and distribution process prior to the vaccination season, particularly given the limited number of influenza vaccine manufacturing plants in the United States and the large number of doses that are produced each year.
Instead, influenza vaccine distribution takes place in a phased fashion over a number of months. It begins in late summer for some manufacturers and vaccine products and usually completes near the end of November or early in December. This system can leave doctors and other vaccine providers with uncertainty about when they can expect to receive their full order of vaccine and can make it difficult for them to plan their vaccination activities. Manufacturers and distributors work to try to get some vaccine to as many providers as possible as soon as possible so that they can begin vaccinating their patients. Getting some vaccine to all providers early in the season is important, because all providers serve at least some high-risk patients (such as people 50 years of age and older or those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, lung disease and weakened immune system) and their household contacts.
What role does the Department of Health and Human Services play in the supply and distribution of the seasonal influenza vaccine?
Influenza vaccine production and distribution are primarily private sector endeavors. The Department of Health and Human Services and CDC do not have the authority to control influenza vaccine distribution nor the resources to manage such an effort. However, the Department has made significant efforts to enhance production capacity of seasonal influenza vaccines, including supporting manufacturers as they invest in processes to stabilize and increase their production capacity and improving guidance about the approval process at the Food and Drug Administration.