Counseling Patients on the Importance of Flu Shots

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, December 6, 2011
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National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), which runs from December 4-10, provides pharmacists with a critical opportunity to urge patients, family, and fellow health care workers to get a flu shot. This year in particular, the CDC is focusing on promoting the importance of immunization to pregnant and postpartum women.

Although data have shown that seasonal influenza is both safe and beneficial in pregnant women, there is still a misperception among the public that vaccines should be avoided during pregnancy. To help better educate patients, the CDC has provided several key points for pharmacists and other health care providers in speaking to pregnant women about flu shots.
  • Influenza is 5 times more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make women more prone to severe illness from influenza
  • Risk of premature labor and delivery is increased in pregnant women with the flu
  • Influenza hospitalization rates in infants <6 months of age are up to 10 times that of older children. However, no influenza vaccines are licensed for use in children <6 months of age.
  • Vaccination during pregnancy has been shown to protect both the mother and her infant (up to 6 months of age) from influenza illness, influenza hospitalizations, and influenza-related preterm birth.
  • Influenza vaccines have been given to millions of pregnant women over the last decade and have not been shown to cause harm to women or their infants.
  • Influenza vaccine can be given to pregnant women in any trimester.
  • Pregnant women can receive inactivated vaccine (flu shot) but should not receive the live attenuated vaccine (nasal spray).
  • Postpartum women, even if they are breastfeeding, can receive either type of vaccine.
As part of the CDC’s message that all individuals aged 6 months and older “Get the flu vaccine, not the flu,” the agency has also provided general key messages to help educate both patients and providers.
  • The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.
  • Although the vaccine composition is still the same, all individuals need to get vaccinated with this season’s vaccine (immunity from last season’s vaccine will have declined).
  • Individuals at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease, and those aged 65 years and older.
  • Children aged 6 months through 8 years who did not receive at least one dose of the 2010-2011 vaccine, or for whom it is not certain whether 2010-2011 vaccine was received, should receive 2 doses of the 2011-2012 seasonal vaccine, administered at least 4 weeks apart.
There are three different flu shots available: a regular flu shot approved for people ages 6 months and older; a high-dose flu shot approved for people 65 and older, and the new intradermal flu shot approved for people 18 through 64 years of age. The age indications for the different flu shots vary, but all may be given to individuals with chronic medical conditions.

The nasal-spray flu vaccine—a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that is given as a nasal spray, is approved for use in most healthy individuals aged 2 through 49 years who are not pregnant. For a complete list of those who can and cannot receive the nasal spray flu vaccine, click here.

For more information on influenza vaccines, check back with Pharmacy Times' Cold & Flu resource center, or click on the links below.

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