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National Immunization Awareness Month

August is National Immunization Awareness Month and is intended to bring about a greater awareness of the importance of vaccinations for people of all ages. Vaccines play an important role in preventing serious and sometimes deadly diseases.

Vaccines make the immune system produce antibodies, just like it would normally do if it was exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, you develop immunity or protection to that disease, without having to get the disease first.

Flu vaccines are one of the many important vaccines that people should get each year. Each year, an average of 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized from flu related complications. Many of the most seriously ill are those individuals with underlying medical conditions involving the lungs, heart, kidney, and liver. There are no exact numbers as to how many people die each year from the flu, because often the cause of death is listed as another issue, such as respiratory failure. Many of those who are sickened or die each year are over age 65. In fact, about 90% of flu related deaths occur in people 65 and older.

Each year, the flu vaccine changes as the World Health Organization and the CDC try their best to guess which strains will be the ones that are circulating in each region of the world. The vaccines take about 6 months to manufacture, so it is decided early in each year which strains will be used in the vaccines, and this varies from country to country.

In past years, even if that year’s flu vaccine is not a perfect match for the circulating virus, it does appear to reduce serious flu complications by producing a milder illness. On average, the flu vaccine still offers a 50-60% reduction in flu related illness.

Many people worry that getting the flu shot may give you the flu. Injectable flu vaccines do not contain live viruses and therefore cannot cause the flu. Following a flu shot, the body will begin to make antibodies, with full protection occurring after 2 weeks. Potential reactions to the flu vaccine are usually mild, and can include soreness, redness, and/or tenderness where the shot was given. In a small percentage of the population, a low grade fever, headache, and muscle aches may occur.

There are several broad varieties of vaccines: trivalent, quadrivalent, LAIV, and the newest adjuvant flu vaccine (FLUAD). The trivalent has 3 strains of vaccine in it; the quadrivalent has 4; the LAIV is a live nasal vaccine. Each year, the various drug companies produce over 170 million doses of flu vaccine for use here in the United States.

There are two new changes to the recommendations for vaccine this year. The live nasal vaccine is not recommended for the 2016/2017 season, and the newer adjuvant vaccine, FLUAD is recommended for those over age 65. This vaccine is designed to create a stronger immune response than in previous years for the older population.

Most individuals should receive an annual flu vaccination. Those people with a prior history of Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological disorder, and also those severely allergic to eggs should definitely check with their doctor before receiving this immunization.

For administration of vaccines at all pharmacies, the patient is required to fill out a vaccine administration record and consent. The form will ask basic health questions and will require a patient signature.

The vaccines are usually available as early as mid-August. Ideally, it is wise to get vaccinated by October, but as long vaccine is still available, they should be offered through January, or even later. It is only necessary to get one flu vaccination each year. Even for those individuals who insist they don’t “need” a flu shot, their vaccination helps to prevent the spread of the disease because vaccination helps you not to spread to the virus to others. So protect yourself, and others, by getting your annual flu shot.