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Unravelling the Flu Vaccine Confusion
A lengthy delay in the arrival of this year’s flu shot and reports of a new “super vaccine” has resulted in some confusion about how best to protect oneself this flu season. Here’s what you need to know.
What is the flu?
Influenza, commonly referred to as “the flu”, is a highly contagious viral illness that infects the nose, throat and lungs, causing such symptoms as fever, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, coughing and a runny nose. Unlike the common cold, the flu can lead to potentially severe and life-threatening illnesses (e.g. bronchitis and pneumonia) and exacerbate existing medical conditions such as asthma.
Why get vaccinated?
To safeguard yourself against the flu and prevent its spread, vaccination is the most effective measure to take. Given that flu viruses undergo continuous mutation, the influenza vaccine is frequently updated from season to season. As such, it is strongly advised that you receive an annual immunization that covers the latest flu strains.
Even when flu strains remain unchanged, getting vaccinated each year is still vital, as immunity does not last indefinitely. At MyDoc Urgent Care Centers, we recommend the flu vaccine for individuals as young as six months of age. However, if it is a child’s first time receiving the vaccine and they are under nine years old, they will require two doses administered at least a month apart to prime their immune system for the coming years.
People at a high risk of developing flu-related complications qualify for a free, government-funded seasonal influenza vaccine. This includes:
- Pregnant women
- People aged 65 years and over
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons
- People with existing medical conditions predisposing them to severe influenza, specifically those with:
- Heart disease
- Chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma
- Neurological conditions
- Immunocompromised persons
- Renal disease
- Haematological disorders
Because pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu, the flu vaccine is strongly advised for those considering pregnancy or who are already pregnant. The flu vaccine can be safely given throughout any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up until your due date. If you have a have the flu shot whilst you’re pregnant, you will develop antibodies that are passed onto your unborn baby, providing protection during their first vulnerable months of life.
A “Super Vaccine”?
Touted as a “super vaccine” in the media, the new “quadrivalent” influenza vaccine (QIV) is now available for the first time in Australia. The QIV contains the same three strains as the seasonal influenza vaccine currently offered through the National Immunisation Program, but with the addition of a second influenza B strain. Having the extra influenza B strain may be of additional benefit to the patient; however, the extent of this will depend on which flu strains are circulating this winter. According to Dr Alan Hampson, chairman of the Influenza Specialist Group, the current trivalent vaccine covers the three strains that are likely to be present in Australia this winter. However, if you plan on travelling overseas this flu season, the QIV may provide extra insurance against the flu.
Patients seeking the QIV should be advised that it is only offered at a private fee and is currently not included in the government’s free flu vaccine program.
The flu isn’t simply a case of having the sniffles – it can put you out of action for several days and can pose serious health risks, especially for those with underlying medical conditions. So, for the best shot (no pun intended) of keeping yourself and your loved ones healthy this flu season, phone the clinic now to make an appointment with our practice nurse.
And While you’re having your Flu Shot……..
…… ask about protecting yourself with the Boostrix® vaccine, a booster to protect against three diseases – diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough).