Roll up your sleeve for that flu vaccine

Getting vaccinated each year is still the single best way to protect yourself against the flu. With flu season quickly approaching, it’s a good time to decide about when and where to get vaccinated. Many local pharmacies are now offering flu vaccines.

Since viruses in the vaccine change each year, annual flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as the vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January and beyond. The timing and duration of influenza season also varies. While influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later. Your body makes protective antibodies in about two weeks once you get a flu vaccination.

Last February, vaccine experts determined that everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year starting with the 2010-2011 influenza season. Notably, the Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people.

The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against three influenza viruses, the 2009 H1N1, and two other influenza viruses — an H3N2 virus and an influenza B virus.

While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it’s especially important that the following groups get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications:¬ 

* Pregnant women

* Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old

* People 50 years of age and older

* People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions

* People who live in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities

* People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care workers; household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu; household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children less than 6 months old because these children are too young to be vaccinated.

There are some people who shouldn’t get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. These include:

* People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs;

* People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination;

* People who developed Guillain-Barrà syndrome within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine;

* Children less than 6 months of age, for whom the vaccine is not approved; and

* People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever. They should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.

Influenza viruses are changing all the time and vaccine effectiveness depends, in part, on the match between vaccine strains and circulating viruses. Despite differences in vaccine strains and circulating viruses each year, laboratory studies still indicate that the vaccine will provide protection against this year’s circulating strains.

Dr. Lloyd Simon is a board certified internist and medical director at Eastern Long Island Hospital.