WASHINGTON Flu vaccination is no longer merely a choice between a jab in the arm or a squirt in the nose. This fall, some brands promise a little extra protection.
For the first time, certain vaccines will guard against four strains of flu rather than the usual three. Called quadrivalent vaccines, these brands may prove more popular for children than their parents. That’s because kids tend to catch the newly added strain more often.
Some questions and answers about the different vaccine varieties to choose from:
Q: What’s the difference between those new four-strain vaccines and the regular kind?
For more than 30 years, the vaccine has offered protection against three influenza strains – two common Type A strains called H1N1 and H3N2, and one strain of Type B. Flu strains continually evolve, and the recipe for each year’s vaccine includes the subtypes of those strains that experts consider most likely to cause illness that winter.
Type A flu causes more serious disease and deaths, especially the H3N2 form that made last year such a nasty flu season. Two distinct Type B families circulate the globe, making it difficult to know which to include in each year’s vaccine. Adding both solves the guesswork.
Q: How can I tell if I’m getting the four-strain vaccine?
All of the nasal spray version sold in the U.S. this year will be this new variety, called FluMist Quadrivalent. The catch is that the nasal vaccine is only for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who aren’t pregnant.
If you prefer a flu shot, ask the doctor or pharmacist if the four-strain kind is available. Manufacturers anticipate producing between 135 million and 139 million doses of flu vaccine this year. Only about 30 million doses will offer the four-strain protection.
Q: Who should seek it?
The CDC doesn’t recommend one vaccine variety over another, and the American Academy of Pediatrics said either kind is fine – just get vaccinated.
Q: How soon should I be vaccinated?
Early fall is ideal, as it’s impossible to predict when flu will start spreading and it takes about two weeks for protection to kick in. But later isn’t too late; flu season typically peaks in January or February.
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