September 19, 2016

Is it time for a flu shot? Maybe not yet, experts say

Daily Briefing

Pharmacies kicked off their flu shot campaigns in August, but some experts say patients would be better off waiting to get vaccinated, Julie Appleby reports for Kaiser Health News.

According to KHN, flu-vaccination campaigns have become a nearly yearlong effort, starting in August and lasting through April or May. The vaccine season has stretched, in part, because of an increase in retail medical clinics and state laws that allow pharmacists to administer the flu shot. The flu season generally peaks in mid-winter or later.

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Experts divided over when to get vaccinated

Some experts say drug stores' flu-vaccine marketing campaigns could be contrary to what is best for patients, KHN reports.

According to some experts, individuals, particularly those over 65, should wait to be vaccinated because the length of immunity the vaccine provides is unclear.    

John Treanor, a vaccine expert at the University of Rochester medical school, said "data are very mixed" on how long immunity lasts. For example, some research has suggested that protectiveness could wear off during a single flu season. Treanor said, "So some might worry that if [they] got vaccinated very early and flu didn't show up until very late, [the vaccine] might not work as well."

According to KHN, older individuals' immune systems could have difficulty responding to the vaccine, causing the drug's protective effects to wear off faster in older individuals when compared with younger people.

Laura Haynes, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut's Center on Aging, said, "If you're over 65, don't get the flu vaccine in September. Or August. It's a marketing scheme." Haynes suggested that the "ideal time" to get vaccinated is between the end of October and late November. However, she said, "If you can't wait and the only chance is to get it in September, then go ahead and get it," adding, "It's best to get it early rather than not at all."

Still, other research suggests immunity could carry over from a previous flu season if the virus' strain has not changed.

Federal health officials recommend people get vaccinated whenever they can. The board that advises CDC on immunizations cautions that while "delaying vaccination might permit greater immunity later in the season, deferral could result in missed opportunities to vaccinate" (Appleby, Kaiser Health News, 9/15).

How to achieve universal employee flu vaccination

In just a few years, Einstein Healthcare Network's employee flu vaccination rate skyrocketed from 30 percent to consistently greater than 97 percent. Learn how they did it.

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