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Q: What is influenza?
A: Influenza (also referred to as the flu) is an infectious respiratory illness caused by a set of viruses. Complications from infection can result in hospitalization and death.
Q: What is the difference between seasonal and novel flu?
A: Seasonal flu infections are caused by viruses that are common from year to year. Novel flu infections are caused by new viruses that have evolved, and there is little existing immunity to them.
Q: What is the seasonal flu vaccine?
A: The seasonal flu vaccine is composed of the 3 most likely strains of influenza virus for the coming year. Administration of a flu vaccine increases the likelihood of protection against seasonal influenza infection by causing the body to develop antibodies to the viruses.
Q: Will the 2010 seasonal flu vaccine protect against the novel 2009 H1N1 virus?
A: Yes, the 2010 seasonal flu vaccine will provide coverage against the novel 2009 H1N1 virus, as well as 2 other common strains of the flu.
Q: Who should get a seasonal flu vaccination?
A: Anyone 6 months of age and older should receive a seasonal flu vaccination. For children under the age of 8 years, 2 doses may be needed depending on previous flu vaccination status. For healthy individuals aged 2 years to 49 years, the nasal vaccine is safe and effective. Health care workers, elderly persons, children, pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions are at the highest risk of contracting the flu and should be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Q: What if I’m pregnant or nursing?
A: Pregnant women are considered a high-risk group and should receive a flu shot as early as possible. You should coordinate this with your obstetrician/gynecologist. The flu shot is also safe and effective for nursing mothers. However, be sure that you only receive an injection and not the nasal version.
Q: When should I get a flu vaccination?
A: Because immunity takes up to 2 weeks to develop, it is important to get your vaccination as soon as possible.
Q: Will there be enough flu vaccine to go around?
A: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has worked very hard with vaccine manufacturers to ensure that there will be an adequate supply of the 2010 seasonal influenza vaccine. Two newer formulations of the vaccine will be available this flu season. In addition, 2 formulations of the flu shot (already available in the market) were approved by the FDA for use in young children.
Q: Who should not get a flu vaccination?
A: People with a history of severe allergy to eggs or any component of the vaccine should not receive the flu shot or the nasal vaccine. Also, children and adolescents taking aspirin should not receive the nasal vaccine. Patients should consult their health care provider to determine if they have a condition that precludes them from receiving the vaccine.
Q: What are the risks associated with a flu vaccination?
A: The risk of a flu vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small. Almost all people who get a flu vaccine experience no serious problems. The most common side effect of the flu shot is soreness at the site of injection. The most common side effect associated with the nasal vaccine is a mild runny nose and congestion, which lasts a very short time. Like any medicine, however, the vaccine may rarely cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. If you experience a severe reaction, promptly report it to your health care provider.
Q: Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
A: No. The viruses in the flu shot are killed and purified. The viruses in the nasal vaccine are severely weakened and cannot produce an infection. Because it takes up to 2 weeks to obtain full immunity, it is possible to be exposed to influenza during this time period and develop the illness. Additionally, the flu vaccine only protects against specific seasonal strains, not all viruses.
Q: Why do I need to get vaccinated each year?
A: Flu viruses change often. Viruses that are common one year can be different than the year before. Therefore, the vaccine in the flu shot changes every year. Also, you can be infected more than once in your life, so previous immunity may not provide protection against another infection.
Q: Do I have to go to my physician to be vaccinated?
A: While you can certainly get a flu vaccine in your physician’s office, many pharmacies offer this service, as do local health departments and walk-in clinics.
Dr. Copeland is a clinical pharmacist specialist at Parkwest Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has been certified by APhA in Pharmacist-Based Immunization Delivery since 1998 and gives several hundred vaccinations annually.
This article was supported by Novartis Vaccines.