Flu is more than just a common cold – It’s deadly. While the flu and the common cold are both respiratory ailments, they’re distinct, and caused by different viruses. Fortunately, an Influenza (Flu) Vaccine can help. Let’s learn more about flu and the vaccines available in the US.
Signs and Symptoms
The flu often leads to more severe symptoms and complications, whereas the common cold generally does not have the same severity or complications.
The possible complications of the flu can include:
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
The signs of a severe flu infection can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Bluish lips or skin
- Chest pain
In the United States, the flu has notable implications: according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine is believed to prevent between 3.7 million and 7.5 million influenza illnesses, 100,000 to 6,300 hospitalizations, and 3,000 to 17,000 deaths annually.
The vaccine is a safe and effective way to shield yourself from the flu. A respiratory illness, the flu is caused by influenza viruses and can range from mild to severe cases, occasionally resulting in death.
The vaccine contains a weakened or inactive form of the flu virus, assisting your body in developing immunity against it.
Each year, experts diligently modify the flu vaccine, targeting the strains anticipated for the imminent flu season. Their predictions derive from thorough surveillance, lab work, clinical studies, and global flu patterns. Ideally, the vaccine should be administered early in the fall, preceding the flu season. However, the immunity it provides wanes over time, underscoring the necessity for annual vaccinations.
Flu Vaccine Options
There are two main types:
- Inactivated Influenza vaccine (IIV): This vaccine is made from killed flu viruses.
- Live attenuated Influenza vaccine (LAIV): This vaccine is made from weakened flu viruses.
IIV is the most common type. It is given as a shot in the arm. LAIV is given as a nasal spray.
IIV is generally considered to be better than LAIV. It is more effective at preventing flu illness. However, LAIV is less likely to cause side effects.
Available vaccines in the US:
- Quadrivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV4): The most widespread type. It includes four flu virus strains, encapsulating the duo expected to circulate during the season.
- Quadrivalent live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4): A live vaccine given via nasal spray. Although less potent than IIV4, it’s more accessible and suitable for children from 2 years.
- High-dose influenza vaccine (HD-IIV4): Contains a heightened flu virus dose and is tailored for those aged 65 and above, who face a higher risk of flu complications.
- Recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV4): Engineered using gene technology. Though not widely available, it holds potential as an IIV4 alternative.
Table of Flu Vaccines in the US
|Vaccine||Brand Name||Route of Administration||Age Group|
|Quadrivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV4)||Fluzone||Intramuscular (IM)||6 months and older|
|Quadrivalent live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4)||FluMist Quadrivalent||Nasal spray||2-49 years|
|High-dose influenza vaccine (HD-IIV4)||Fluzone High-Dose||Intramuscular (IM)||65 years and older|
|Recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV4)||Flublok Quadrivalent||Subcutaneous (SC)||18 years and older|
Do consult your doctor about the most suitable vaccine for your circumstances.
Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine?
The influenza vaccine is advised for all individuals aged 6 months and upwards. People prone to serious flu complications include:
- Children under 5
- Adults 65 and over
- Those with chronic conditions, e.g., heart or lung disease, diabetes
- Pregnant women
- Individuals residing with or caring for high-risk individuals
Flu Vaccine Administration and Efficacy
The influenza vaccine is typically injected into the muscle but can also be a nasal spray. In trials, it displayed a 70-90% efficacy rate against flu. Notably, the vaccine’s protective nature isn’t permanent, a reason behind the annual vaccine recommendation.
Safety and Side Effects
The vaccine is generally safe. Common side effects are mild, disappearing within days. They include:
- Injection site pain, redness, swelling
- Muscle aches
Severe side effects are exceptionally rare.
Cost and Insurance
Most health insurance plans cover the flu vaccine as preventive care at zero cost. Without insurance, local pharmacies and clinics typically offer the vaccine for a nominal fee.
- The flu vaccine isn’t live; it can’t cause the flu.
- It isn’t 100% foolproof. You might contract the flu post-vaccination, but the vaccine reduces severity.
- It’s safe for most, barring those with severe allergies to its components.
Benefits of the Influenza Vaccine
- Reduces flu risk
- Minimizes serious flu complications
- Shields loved ones from the flu
- Is both safe and efficient
- Offers the best protection against the flu
Conclusively, the flu vaccine is your best bet against influenza. Annual vaccinations are pivotal for maintaining health and halting flu transmission.
You can get more information about the flu from:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC is a good source of information on a variety of health topics, including the flu. You can find information on the CDC’s website or by calling their helpline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).
National Institutes of Health (NIH): The NIH is another good source of information on the flu. You can find information on the NIH’s website or by calling their helpline at 1-800-411-1222.