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It's Still Not Too Late to Get Your Flu Vaccine

 

Did you mean to get your flu vaccine in the fall but did not get around to it? Think it is too late to get vaccinated now? Well, think again. This is not the case. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), vaccinations can be protective as long as flu viruses are circulating. Seasonal flu outbreaks may happen as early as October; however, flu activity usually peaks in January or February and can last into May.

Why a new vaccine?

According to Marion Gruber, Ph.D., director of FDA's Office of Vaccine Research and Review, there are several reasons that new vaccines must be manufactured each year. "Influenza viruses can change from year to year, due to different subtypes and strains that circulate each year," says Gruber. A vaccine is needed that includes virus strains that most closely match those in circulation, and the protection provided by the previous year's vaccine will diminish over time.

Identifying likely virus strains

Each February, before that year's flu season ends, FDA, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health experts collaborate on collecting and reviewing data from around the world to identify the flu viruses likely to cause the most illnesses in the next flu season. Based on that information and the recommendations of an FDA advisory committee, the agency selects the virus strains for FDA-licensed manufacturers to include in their vaccines for use in the U.S.

In addition, FDA inspects the manufacturing facilities on a regular basis, and prepares and provides reagents (necessary test components to standardize vaccines) that vaccine manufacturers need to make their vaccine and to verify its identity and strength. FDA also evaluates each manufacturer's vaccine each year for approval purposes, conducts lot release (that is, performs certain tests and reviews the results of the manufacturers' tests on each lot of vaccine prior to distribution), and continues to monitor the safety of the vaccines once they are approved for use and in distribution.

Who's most affected so far?

CDC tracks influenza activity year round in the U.S. and typically children and seniors are most at risk for influenza, but occasionally a flu virus will circulate that disproportionately affects young and middle-aged adults. So far, data reported by CDC suggest that 2013-2014 could be such a flu season.

CDC received an unusually high number of reports of severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults in the last 2 months of 2013. Many of the cases were associated with the H1N1 strain of influenza that affected children and young adults compared to older adults during the 2009 influenza pandemic. The 2009 H1N1 virus has circulated each year since the pandemic. It is not known if those most severely affected received a vaccine, but this particular strain is included in this year's vaccine and will help provide protection.

"Influenza seasons and severity are often unpredictable. Annual influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza among people 6 months of age and older," says Gruber. "However, taking such practical measures as washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when sick can also help to decrease the spread and minimize the effects of flu."

In addition, while antiviral drugs are not a substitute for vaccine, they can help to treat influenza. Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir) are the 2 FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC for use against recently circulating influenza viruses.

According to the CDC, The latest FluView surveillance report indicates that flu season is just starting. For the millions of American who have not yet been vaccinated this season, that means there is still time to be protected against the flu this season. There are several flu vaccine options for the 2013-2014 flu seasons. To find a flu vaccine location near you, access the Healthmap Vaccine finder available here.

For more information go to FDA Website.


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