Parents should get their kids – and themselves – vaccinated against flu as soon as possible, pediatricians advised on Monday.
There are some new vaccines on the market and while some of the newer ones might appear better, it’s not worth waiting for one, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in an advisory.
“With the exception of children less than 6 months of age, everybody should go out and get their influenza vaccine as soon as the influenza vaccines are available,” Dr. Michael Brady of Nationwide Children's Hospital and chairman of the Committee on Infectious Diseases for the Academy told NBC News.
“Parents should not delay vaccinating their children to obtain a specific vaccine,” added pediatrician Dr. Henry Bernstein of the Hofstra North Shore – Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, who led the team writing the recommendations.
“Influenza virus is unpredictable, and what’s most important is that people receive the vaccine soon, so that they will be protected when the virus begins circulating.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that anywhere between 3,000 to 49,000 people a year die from flu in the United States, and up to 200,000 are sick enough to be hospitalized. A lot depends on the strains circulating. During last year’s flu season, 160 children died from flu.
This year, some companies are making new vaccines that protect against four strains of influenza. “Normally, there are three strains in the influenza vaccines,” Brady said.
“Normally the vaccine would have two influenza A strains, an H1N1 and an H3N2 strain, and one B strain.” Some of the new vaccines will protect against two different B strains of flu.
Doctors are a little worried that people will hear there is a new and possibly better flu vaccine and will hold out to get it, the group says in a statement published in the journal Pediatrics.
“Theoretically, four strains sounds better than three strains. We just don't have data to support that that's actually the case,” Brady said. “The AAP is not going to recommend a preference, but that doesn't mean that parents don't have a preference.”
One popular vaccine, the needle-free FluMist version, will be a four-strain vaccine.
“Some parents would prefer that their child didn't need to have an injection. So the mist has an advantage from that point of view,” Brady noted.
But most doctors’ office may offer two or more different vaccine types.
“The companies can't make enough four-strain vaccines to meet all the demands, so for (the) 2013-2014 influenza season, providers are going to have a mixture of the different vaccines,” Brady said.
“Hopefully by 2014-2015 season, all of the vaccines will be four strains.”
The AAP also points out there’s a new vaccine on the market this year for people with egg allergies.
The new Flublok vaccine is made with cell technology, which is used for other kinds of vaccines. It was licensed in January to Protein Sciences Corp.
For newborns and young infants, the best protection is for their mothers to get vaccinated while pregnant. Pregnant women are advised to get flu shots to protect themselves, also. Pregnancy affects the immune system and expectant women have more than the usual risk for getting severely sick from influenza and other infections.
But despite this advice, during the 2010-2011 U.S. flu season, only about half of pregnant women reported getting a flu vaccine.
Flu vaccine is a hard sell for most groups. About 128 million people, or about 42 percent of the U.S. population, got immunized against influenza in the 2011-2012 flu season. Because flu viruses constantly mutate and evolve, people must get vaccinated with a fresh formula every year to be fully protected.
The best vaccination rates are among babies aged up to 2, with nearly 75 percent vaccinated. That’s because babies make regular visits to pediatricians, and vaccinations are a routine part of those visits. And more than 63 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds were vaccinated in 2011.
Part of the problem is that people don’t see flu as a serious health threat. And rumors abound that the flu vaccine can make you sick.
“One of the problems that we see with giving millions and millions of doses of vaccines is that people will get other illnesses that aren't influenza near the time that they receive the influenza vaccine and because it's temporally related, they have a tendency to believe the vaccine was responsible,” Brady said. “But it's usually something else unrelated to the vaccine and unrelated to influenza.”
It also takes a week or so for the flu vaccine to take effect and provide full protection.
“Most time, flu in the U.S. peaks in January, February, sometimes into March,” Brady said.
“If people go get their vaccines as soon as their provider has them available, they should feel comfortable that they'll have protection for the whole flu season.”