The Florida Department of Health is adamant. Everyone should get vaccinated for influenza by the end of this month.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Aisha Thomas-St. Cyr at Sebastian Infectious Disease Care and Steward Health agrees wholeheartedly with the FDH, saying “yes, I recommend everyone – 6 months of age and up – get vaccinated.”
Let’s start with this: According to Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 80,000 Americans lost their lives to the flu last year.
That’s the highest death toll in this country in more than 40 years.
Also, this year’s vaccine is expected to work better than last year’s.
The 2017-18 flu shot was only about 26 percent effective against last season’s dominant influenza strain, the H3N2, but Thomas-St. Cyr says that “this year’s vaccine will be a better match than last year’s.”
Additionally, after a two-year hiatus, the FluMist nasal spray is back on the market, providing another option for protecting your health. In fact, the FluMist may actually have an edge over the shots this year.
The current process for producing shots requires the flu viruses to be grown in eggs, per FDA regulations. In the 2017-18 shot, that turned out to be a problem. Last year’s H3N2 strain may well have packed such a deadly punch because it is one of a handful of flu viruses that grows poorly in eggs.
FluMist nasal spray, however, uses a live, inactive virus, not one grown in eggs.
Because of that, Thomas-St. Cyr believes this year’s spray may represent “a more natural immunity. It’s what we find in nature rather than when it grows from an egg culture, so they think it might be a little more effective.”
This year’s nasal spray contains the same four flu viruses as the flu shots: an influenza A (H1N1) virus; an influenza A (H3N2) virus; and two influenza B viruses – the B/Colorado and B/Phuket.
And, no. You can’t “catch the flu” by getting the shot. Or inhaling the spray.
Seniors have even more options for the 2018-19 vaccine.
As Thomas-St. Cyr explains: “Age over 65, you can get a special high dose vaccine. It pretty much has four times the antigen as the regular vaccine.”
That, she continues, can be important, “because as you age, your immune system may weaken and is not as powerful, so giving you more of the antigen would make you react more and make your immune system rev up.”
Does getting the 2018-19 flu vaccines provide a 100 percent guarantee you won’t be affected by the flu?
Some flu viruses may not appear or begin circulating until well into the flu season, long after the vaccines have been formulated and distributed. Still, the CDC says if you are vaccinated, you’re likely to have a much less virulent reaction to any such new strain and that, alone, could save your life.
And speaking of saving lives, Thomas-St. Cyr strongly urges everyone to go online to www.cdc.gov and check their Adult (or Children’s) Immunization Schedule.
You, your children or even your grandchildren may have gotten immunization shots years ago for any number of life-threatening disease and felt secure ever since, but you could well be due for a booster.
Thomas-St. Cyr suggests checking the CDC website right before your next annual wellness exam because sometimes booster shots are “the last thing” a busy primary care physician is likely to think about.
Dr. Aisha Thomas-St. Cyr is at Sebastian ID Care at 7955 Bay Street, Suite 2, directly south of the Sebastian River Medical Center. The phone is 772-388-9155.