Dr. Howard K. Koh, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said there is a plentiful supply of influenza vaccine and in addition to the standard injected vaccine, there is a high-dose version for people age 65 and older and a version made in cell-culture, a technique long-used for other vaccines, but new for influenza vaccines.
There is also a vaccine with a much smaller needle for adults ages 18-64 years; an egg-free version for adults ages 18-49; and the nasal spray, a needle-free option for those ages 2-49 years old. In addition, for the first time this year some of the vaccines available will provide protection against four strains of influenza, Koh said.
"We have more types of vaccine available than ever before, and there are one or more options that are right for everyone," said Dr. William Schaffner, immediate past-president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
The plan is for all influenza vaccines to eventually include four strains compared to the long-standing three, Schaffner said, but this is not expected to happen for several years. In the interim, he stressed getting vaccinated is so important that "no one should skip vaccination if his or her first choice is not available."
Schaffner also noted the vaccine cannot cause the flu, despite a common misconception which might keep some people from getting vaccinated. It takes up to two weeks for the body's full response to vaccination. In the meantime, if a person comes in contact with someone infected with flu, he or she might get sick -- and think it was from the vaccine. Because people can spread the virus for a few days before symptoms appear, one might not know they've already been infected, Schaffner said.
Schaffner also urged people to be aware of pneumococcal infection, a common complication of influenza that can cause a particularly severe type of pneumonia, as well as meningitis, blood poisoning and other serious infections.
Influenza season is also a good time for patients to ask about whether they need pneumococcal vaccination. Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended for everyone age 65 and older. Younger adults may need it if they have certain risk conditions, such as heart, lung or liver problems, diabetes, asthma or are smokers, Schaffner said.
Vaccination is also very important for people with compromised immune systems, which can result from HIV infection and many types of cancer