Someone receiving a vaccine

What You Need to Know About the Influenza Vaccine

Influenza Vaccine

Aching body, stuffy nose, a cough and more — no one likes to suffer from the flu. The influenza vaccine can help defend your body against the flu.

Influenza is a common ailment, especially in the wintertime, and doing your best to protect you and your loved ones against this illness may include getting an influenza vaccine.

What Is the Influenza Vaccine?

The influenza vaccine is also called a “flu shot” or “flu jab” and is a vaccine that lessens your chance of contracting the illness and mitigates its severity if you do.

Flu vaccines have been around since the 1930s, but because the flu virus changes so rapidly a new vaccine is developed twice a year.

How the Influenza Vaccine Works

The flu vaccine works much like other vaccines: the vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body that will know how to fight the flu if your body comes into contact with it. The antibodies will be able to destroy the flu germs before they have a chance to get you sick.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the seasonal flu vaccine “protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.”

Traditional Flu Vaccines

The traditional flu vaccine — which is called trivalent — is created to protect against three flu viruses, and consists of three influenza viruses, namely an influenza A (H1N1), an influenza A (H3N2) and an influenza B virus.

For the 2019 to 2020 season, two trivalent vaccines have been approved for people 65 years and older.

  • One of the two trivalent vaccines contains more antigen. This antigen is the part of the virus that the immune system develops antibodies against. This will create a stronger immune response.
  • The second trivalent vaccine contains more adjuvant. This is the ingredient that helps to create a stronger immune response.

Quadrivalent Vaccines

A second type of influenza vaccine is created to protect against four flu viruses and therefore contains four viruses. These are known as the “quadrivalent vaccines” and contain the same viruses as the traditional flu vaccine (see above) as well as a second influenza B virus.

Various quadrivalent vaccines can be made for any one season, for example:

  • The standard-dose quadrivalent vaccine for the 2019 to 2020 season has been approved for different age groups and can be given to children as young as 6 months of age.

This standard-dose vaccine is without adjuvant and is manufactured using virus grown in eggs. Several different approved brands are available.

  • A quadrivalent cell-based flu shot is contains virus grown in cell culture. This flu shot is approved to be used for people 4 years and older.
  • A recombinant quadrivalent flu shot that has been made without influenza viruses or eggs has been approved for people 18 or older.
  • Lastly, a quadrivalent live attenuated influenza nasal spray vaccine (LAIV4), which is made from weakened ("attenuated") live viruses are approved to be used for those aged 2 to 49. This one, however, should not be used for pregnant women and people who have certain medical conditions.

Your health care practitioner will be able to tell you exactly which of these flu shots is the right one for you.

Why Is It Important to Get the Influenza Vaccine?

We often brush off colds and flu when it comes to illnesses as they occur seasonally. However, influenza can be deadly, and, in fact, thousands of people do die of the flu every year.

When you and your family get the flu vaccine, you put a safeguard in place for not only you, but also those around you. If you don’t get ill during “flu season,” you will not have to worry about being absent from work, or school. You can enjoy the season to its fullest.

Who Should Get the Influenza Vaccine?

The CDC recommends that all people 6 months and older should get vaccinated with the influenza vaccine that is best for them.

Which of the flu vaccines you get will depend on your age and health, among other factors.

Those who are at a high risk for developing complications should they get the flu, and who should therefore get the vaccine, are:

  • Children younger than 2 years
  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Pregnant women and those who have just delivered their babies
  • Native Americans and Alaska Natives
  • People in nursing homes as well as those who work there
  • People with long-term health conditions like asthma, diabetes or cancer

There are occasions when getting a flu vaccine, however, is not the best choice. It is important for you to know if you need to skip the flu shot or what information you need to share with your health care professional.

Who Should Not Get the Influenza Vaccines?

Those who should rather not get the flu vaccine, are the following people:

  • Those with a history of an allergic reaction to previous flu vaccines
  • Anyone with a history of Guillain Barre syndrome
  • Infants under 6 months old

If you are at all unsure whether to get an influenza vaccine, be sure to speak to your health care professional.

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