You and your family (that includes everyone older than 6 months of age) have options for the annual influenza (flu) vaccine. There are even new options for the “big babies” who don’t like getting shots.

Here is what’s available this flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Standard flu shot (called trivalent) provides protection against the three types of flu viruses that are most likely to occur this season – two A-type strains (H1N1 and H3N2) and one B-type. This vaccine has been around for almost 50 years and provides good protection against illness.
  • Fluarix Quadrivalent, FluLaval Quadrivalent, Flucelvax Quadrivalent and Fluzone Quadrivalent include the three types of protection from the standard shot, plus an additional B-type strain. Quadrivalent provides additional protection because four types provide broader immunity than three types.
  • Flucelvax or Flublok Quadrivalent provide standard protection against flu for people who have egg allergy. These protect against four types of flu (quadrivalent). Unlike regular flu shots, these do not use chicken eggs in the manufacturing process.
  • Fluzone High-Dose or Fluad is designed to provide extra protection for people age 65 and older. Fluad has four times as much medicine so it produces a stronger response by the immune system. Older people often have weakened immune systems and need help building resistance against flu. If you have Medicare Part B, it will cover all flu shots.
  • Fluzone Intradermal or Afluria are both great options for those who hate shots so much they avoid an annual flu shot. This option injects the vaccine just under the skin using a tiny 1/16-inch-long micro needle. Okay babies, this one is almost impossible to feel and certainly does not hurt. The vaccines described above use a regular needle to inject deeper in the muscle.
  • Afluria and Afluria Quadrivalent are also painless, no-needle options for those who appreciate new high-tech equipment. Instead of a needle, a medical device uses a jet injector – a high-pressure, narrow stream of fluid – to penetrate the skin. Safe for those ages 18 to 64.
  • FluMist Quadrivalent is a nasal-spray vaccine that is again available for the 2018-19 flu season. The CDC said it was not effective enough to gain their recommendation during the last two years’ flu seasons. Nasal-spray vaccines available this year are effective and included in CDC’s recommended options. This is a no-needle option using a mist squirted into each nostril of your nose. The nasal spray, a live attenuated influenza virus or LAIV, is available for use by non-pregnant individuals, ages 2 to 49. LAIV should not be used for people with certain health conditions. Check with your health care professional. It provides quadrivalent protection.

While you’re deciding on a type of vaccine, let’s remember why they are so important. An annual flu vaccine:

  • Keeps you from getting sick, feeling horrible (flu is much worse than the common cold!) and missing school or work. Flu is largely preventable if you’ve been vaccinated before exposure to flu virus. A vaccination provides good protection for about six months. However, if you were exposed to flu prior to getting your shot, you were going to get sick anyway – with or without the shot. You just waited too long.
  • Prevents you from infecting your family, schoolmates and work colleagues. Flu spreads very easily and flu viruses can live on just about everything you touch. You can spread the flu to others before you know you have it. A healthy adult can be contagious for a full day before any symptoms develop and contagious about a week after symptoms stop. Children are contagious for several days longer than adults.
  • Prevents hospitalizations –100,000 to 500,000 a year. If you have heart of lung problems, flu will make them worse. Flu can trigger other serious complications including brain, muscles or heart inflammation; organ failure; blood infections (sepsis); pneumonia; bronchitis; sinus, ear and lung infections; and worsen chronic conditions such as asthma or congestive heart failure.
  • Prevents deaths – 3,000 to 50,000 a year
  • Is needed every year because flu strains change from year to year
  • Is very important if you have medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, kidney or liver problems, have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more (extreme obesity), sickle cell disease or a weakened or compromised immune system.
  • Is important for young children, starting at 6 months of age. Children have a higher rate of infection than adults. Flu complications in children include viral or bacterial pneumonia, bacteremia, ear infections, breathing complications, seizures, swelling of the brain, prolonged hospitalization and death. If your child gets the flu, he or she will miss school, feel terrible for up to two weeks and could develop life-threatening complications requiring hospitalization. More than 90 percent of children treated for flu in intensive care units last year had not received a flu shot. About half of children who died from flu and its complications were perfectly healthy before getting flu. Unvaccinated children between six months and eight years of age should have two initial doses of vaccine to build immunity. Children who are vaccinated for the first time will need two doses to have the best response. Get the first dose now because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.
  • Is important for older people because of their higher risk for serious flu complications.
  • Is safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine before flu hits your community, generally by the end of October. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body, so make plans to get vaccinated early in fall, before flu season begins. If you get vaccinated later, it is still helpful, and you would be protected throughout the season, even into January or later.

Flu vaccines are considered preventive medicine and are available at no cost to you. Medicare, Medicaid, ARKids First, Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) county health offices (click here to find an ADH office near you) and most private insurance carriers will pay for your family’s flu vaccines.

Photo Credit: Steve Debenport  E+ Collection