Summer is drawing to a close, and fall is right around the corner. As one season ends, another begins. Fall’s arrival marks the beginning of another season; flu season. It’s that time of year again. If you’re a proponent of flu shots, then you already know this. Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from influenza. As the season draws closer, medical professionals are issuing their annual warning; get a flu shot. The flu shot is important because it reduces your risk of contracting the flu. It also reduces the chances that you’ll pass the flu on to others, such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
Here is what to know about flu vaccines for 2019-2020, so you can prepare and stay healthy.
What viruses will the flu vaccines protect against?
There are a lot of flu viruses, and they constantly change and adapt. Top medical officials review the composition of flu vaccines in the U.S. every year. The goal of the annual review is to identify and match circulating flu viruses as needed. The current flu vaccines protect against what medical professionals project to be the most common three or four viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the list of which strains the vaccines will protect against this year.
The most common trivalent vaccines will contain:
- A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
- A/Kansas/14/2017 (H3N2)-like virus
- B/Colorado/06/2017-like (Victoria lineage) virus
Quadrivalent (four-component) vaccines, which protect against a second lineage of B viruses, will contain:
- The three recommended viruses above, plus B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (Yamagata lineage) virus
Medical professionals at the CDC, World Health Organization, and Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee make an educated guess every year on which strains will be the most common. They study weather patterns, health statistics, and other data to narrow down the list. Based on all the information available, they determine which strains will be the most contagious. Even if they’re wrong, and the vaccines don’t match the strain, the vaccines can still effectively prevent disease.
How long does it take for the vaccine to work?
From the time you get the shot, you can expect it to take two weeks to become effective. During that time, the body builds antibodies to protect against the flu. Health officials recommend you get the vaccine before the end of October. The peak of flu season is usually between December and February. This will give the body plenty of time to build up the antibodies it needs to fend off the virus.
How severe will the flu season be?
It’s hard to predict how severe it will be. Each season comes with its own level of severity, and it’s anyone’s guess. The more people that get vaccines against the flu, though, the better. The flu season in Australia is usually a good indicator of how the season in the U.S. will turn out. The U.S. tends to mirror Australia in strains and severity year after year. Unfortunately, Australia had one of the worst flu seasons on record. After a mild 2018, their flu season started early this year. By August, they had almost 217,000 reported cases of influenza. The death toll from those cases was at 430, although, authorities believe the number to be higher. Based on that information, the flu season in 2019-2020 for the U.S. does not look good.
What are some common misconceptions about flu vaccines?
The biggest misconception about the flu vaccine is that is gives you the flu. That isn’t true. According to the CDC, ”Flu vaccines given with a needle (i.e., flu shots) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious, or b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection. This is the case for recombinant influenza vaccines.”
Because some people end up not feeling well after they get the shot, they equate that to having the flu. It’s common for people to report side effects from the vaccine one or two days after getting it. They can have soreness, redness, swelling, or tenderness around the area of the shot. Headaches, muscle aches, and a low-grade fever can also occur. Those minor symptoms do not mean the person has contracted the flu, though.
While getting a flu shot won’t give you the flu, getting a flu shot does not guarantee that you won’t contract the flu. It’s still possible to contract the flu after you get vaccinated. While the flu vaccine is created based on hard data and facts, it’s still a guess as to which strains will be the most prevalent. You could contract a strain of the flu that the vaccine can’t fight because it wasn’t made to. There’s also the chance you contracted the flu before you got the shot. The virus has an incubation period of one to four days, and it could already be in your body when you get the shot. By then, it’s too late to protect you. If you do get the vaccine and the flu, your symptoms may be less severe. The shot boosts the body’s immune system and will help it fight off the illness.
How much vaccine will be available?
Private manufacturers make the vaccines. How much they make year to year is up to them, and the supply will depend on the demand. They’ve projected that they’ll make between 162 million and 169 million doses available in the U.S. for the 2019-2020 flu season. That number can change as the season progresses. If the season isn’t as bad as projected, they’ll cut back on production. Manufacturers must exercise caution when they make the vaccines. Any vaccine can spoil and lose its effectiveness. If a manufacturer floods the market with too many shots, the problem of storage could arise. Clinics, doctors’ offices, and medical centers that dispense the shots only have so much space for the vaccine. Storage refrigerators come with a limited amount of space to store the vaccines properly. Manufacturers must exercise restraint, so they don’t produce too much, too fast and risk spoilage.