Latest Cold and Flu News
In the 2018-2019 flu season, an estimated 35.5 million Americans got sick from flu. Nearly half a million were hospitalized for flu. And an estimated 35,000 died from flu. 2018-19 is the most recent flu season with available statistics.
Flu vaccines need to be updated each year, says MedicineNet medical author Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD.
"Each year, influenza viruses change slightly, making the seasonal vaccine used in previous years ineffective," she says. "The vaccine is only effective against the strains of the virus that match the vaccine."
This is why the effectiveness of flu vaccines varies from year to year. When the flu shot is designed, scientists estimate what strain of flu is most likely to spread that year. Sometimes their choices match well with the virus in circulation, but in some years the vaccine is a poor match for the type of flu that spreads. Even so, all flu shots confer some immunity to some people.
"While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show vaccines reduces the risk of flu illness by about 40%-60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are similar to those used in the vaccines," Dr. Stöppler said. "Similar reductions in the number of people hospitalized with the flu have also been observed."
Flu Vaccine Options in 2020
This year there are three flu vaccine types to choose from. Some vaccines are better fits for certain people.
The most commonly available flu vaccine, and the one recommended for most people, is called the quadrivalent flu vaccine. That "quad" in the name refers to the four flu virus strains the vaccine is designed to control: two influenza A viruses, and two influenza B viruses.
This is an advancement over the former standard, says the CDC. The government agency explains this is an advancement over the old trivalent vaccine that only protected from one of two commonly circulated strains of influenza B.
Infants as young as 6 months old can receive the quadrivalent flu shot. Indeed, anyone six months and up is encouraged to consider this vaccine.
Another formulation of the flu virus is targeted toward seniors over age 65. In seniors, flu vaccine protection often doesn't last as long. That's why the high-dose flu shot is recommended for people in this age group. The high-dose flu shot contains four times as much vaccine virus per dose. This makes its protection last longer.
The third way to get your flu vaccine this year is through your nose as a spray. The nasal flu spray is only given to people ages 2-49. It is not given to pregnant women, as it contains a small portion of active virus.
In 2020-21, the nasal spray will also be quadrivalent, just like the shot. Although they contain live, weakened viruses, they cannot give you flu. The nasal spray can sometimes cause stronger side effects than other vaccines, though. Discuss these with your doctor.
Will a Coronavirus Vaccine Be Safe With Flu Vaccine?
Many people are concerned about the safety of the flu vaccine. Each year, infectious disease experts urge every American to get vaccinated, though, and assure that the vaccines are safe.
Seasonal flu shots have been around for more than 50 years, the CDC states. But they can still cause some minor side effects. These include:
While there is no coronavirus vaccine available to the public yet, many wonder if both vaccines will be compatible.
And although no coronavirus vaccine exists, Dr. Stöppler said that these are being designed to work even if you have had your flu vaccine for the year.
"Vaccine developers are working to ensure development of a vaccine that is safe for everyone, including those who have had flu shots," Dr. Stöppler said. "Currently in the absence of a coronavirus vaccine, it is especially important for the 2020-21 flu season to receive a flu shot for its overall health benefits."