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Monday, August 18, 2014

Flu Vaccine 2014-15 Season

Every year it's something.

Flu vaccine causes distress every year for physician offices around the country.

I wrote about some of the issues last year here and here.

This year's flu vaccine is identical to the trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines of last season, so it should be easier.

But as always, there's a hitch.

This year there is a delay in shipping but no one really knows why. I've heard pharmacies are starting to advertise they have flu vaccine. From a business standpoint, we start to worry when we hear people say "I'll just do it at the pharmacy." We've already ordered more doses than last year and don't want to get stuck with supplies we can't use. Bad for business...

How flu vaccine makers choose their shipping times to various offices around the country is unknown to me. We order nearly a year in advance so they can make the requested number of doses. We must project how many infant vs child injectable doses of vaccine we will need and how many nasal spray doses we will need. Some years we can add to our order, but other years there are shortages. There are several makers of various brands, but in pediatrics we are limited to what types we order based on the ages for which it can be used.

As soon as we start getting the vaccine we will begin to offer them in the office. Typically we start getting a few doses at a time, so we can't advertise with those first small shipments. It will simply be patients who are in the office and eligible for the type we have will be offered flu vaccine. When we get enough to hold a flu vaccine clinic, we will send out e-newsletters to patients who are registered, as well as post on our website and Facebook page. Our flu clinics run smoothly because parents sign up on line. We will send paperwork ahead of time for you to fill out at home. Bringing that really helps. You will need to have signed our financial policy before the flu vaccine. To keep things running smoothly, we encourage you to do that ahead of time if you have not already done so. We also ask that your child is current on well visits in order to use our flu clinic. If your child needs a well visit, simply schedule one and he can get the vaccine at that visit. We will always give flu vaccine to patients and their siblings who are in the office for a visit (but without significant illness, such as fever) as long as supply lasts.

Who needs a flu vaccine and when should it be given?

It is recommended that everyone over 6 months of age get a flu vaccine each year. As soon as the vaccine is available, it can be given. Ideally the vaccine is given before the influenza season starts. Flu season usually peaks in January, but influenza can occur at any time of the year. I must put a plug in for getting the vaccine in your medical home if at all possible. This keeps vaccine records all in one place and helps support your doctor's office.

Which vaccine should my child get?

Children 6 months to 2 years should get the injectable vaccine. They are not eligible for the nasal spray (FluMist).

Starting in 2014-2015, the CDC recommends use of the nasal spray vaccine (FluMist) in healthy children 2 - 8 years of age, when it is immediately available and if the child has no contraindications or precautions to that vaccine.

Contraindications to the FluMist are:
  • Children younger than 2 years
  • Adults 50 years and older
  • People with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or to a previous dose of any influenza vaccine
  • Young children with asthma
  • Children or adolescents on long-term aspirin treatment
  • Children and adults who have chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular (except isolated hypertension), renal, hepatic, neurologic/neuromuscular, hematologic, or metabolic disorders
  • Children and adults who have immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by HIV)
  • Pregnant women
  • Live virus vaccine (such as MMR or Varicella/chickenpox) within the past 4 weeks. The vaccines can be given together on the same day, but if not on the same day they must be given 28 days apart from one another.
  • Most people with the above contraindications can still be vaccinated with the injectable vaccine - ask your doctor

Recent studies suggest that the nasal spray flu vaccine may work better than the flu shot in younger children. However, if the nasal spray vaccine is not immediately available and the flu shot is, children should get the flu shot. Don’t delay vaccination to find the nasal spray flu vaccine.

How many doses does my child need?

In young children who have never received a flu vaccine, two doses of the same strain should be given. If they've had two doses of the same strain previously, they only need one dose. In children over 9 years of age, regardless of previous vaccines, only one dose is needed. This is because it is presumed that by 9 years of age a child has been exposed to the influenza virus previously. Think of it as the first vaccine is the initial body's exposure to the virus in young children, then everyone needs a booster dose for the season, including the first season if a child has never had one before.

The CDC has put together a flow chart of how many doses are needed:


Can a person still get the flu even after getting the vaccine?

Each year experts pick the most likely strains of influenza virus that are expected. Some years they do a great job, other years it is not as accurate. There is some cross-reactivity among strains, so even in years that the wrong strains are in the vaccine, there is some protection against severe flu illness. So yes, it is possible to still get influenza, but usually the illness is mild.

Can a person get the flu from the vaccine?

No. I have heard many people say they get the flu from the vaccine, but this is not possible. People who get the nasal vaccine can get mild congestion (cold like symptoms), but they do not get the flu from the vaccine. It is possible that they were exposed to the actual flu virus and get sick before the vaccine has a chance to provide protection. Or they have a viral illness that isn't the flu. People with influenza often say they feel like they were run over by a train. They are sick. It is not just a cold.

Can I get the flu vaccine even though I have an egg allergy?

The following recommendations come from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP):

People with a history of egg allergy who have experienced only hives after exposure to egg should receive the injectable influenza vaccine. Because there is limited data in the use of live attenuated influenza vaccine (FluMist) in egg allergic people, inactivated influenza vaccines (shots) either the IIV or trivalent recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV3) should be used.

Where can I get more information? 

Each year the CDC provides summary information about the current influenza vaccine season. You can read about the 2014-15 season, information on flu vaccine myths and misconceptions, and you can even see where the flu has hit.