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Zack Aldrich/MEDILL

The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy offered a flu shot clinic last week.

Health officials urge the public to have seasonal flu shots

by Zack Aldrich
Oct 04, 2011


Zack Aldrich/MEDILL

Amina Gassam, of Chicago's North Side, receives her flu shot.

Vaccine Options

 Intramuscular shot:

  • Approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people 6 months and older, including pregnant women
  • Needle with killed virus typically placed into muscle tissue in shoulder
  • High-dose, administered for first time in 2010, is available for people 65 and older

Nasal spray:

  • Approved by FDA for ages 2 to 49, not including pregnant women
  • Contains a live, weakened flu virus that does not cause flu symptoms

Intradermal shot:

  • Approved by FDA for ages 18 to 64
  • Administered for the first time this year
  • Needle is 90 percent smaller than general flu needle; shot under dermis layer, not muscle

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Ann Censotti, 59, a licensed clinical social worker from Andersonville, received her flu shot last month because she works closely with older people who are especially vulnerable to the flu.

“I haven’t had the flu since I was a teenager, so when things are going around, I don’t usually pick them up,” she said. “Oftentimes, I don’t even take these preventative shots. I think if I wasn’t working in a setting with a population that was really vulnerable, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it this time.”

The elderly are especially vulnerable to the influenza virus, along with pregnant women, children younger than 5 and people with chronic medical conditions such as congenital heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But since Feb. 24, 2010, the CDC has recommended people 6 months and older receive a flu vaccine to ensure a wide array of people are protected.

This season’s vaccine protects against an influenza A virus, a derivative of the H1N1 strain that particularly affected young people in 2009, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B (Brisbane) strain, according to the CDC. The Food and Drug Administration chooses the vaccine’s composition based on World Health Organization recommendations.

Health officials note several characteristics of this season's vaccine:

  • This year’s vaccine is identical to last year’s, but the CDC still recommends people receive a shot this season.
  • Parents with children ages 6 months to 8 years old who were vaccinated last year need only one shot this year, instead of the two usually recommended for children.
  • For needle phobics, an under-the-skin shot is available this year.

Dr. Julie Morita, deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said past recommendations were mindful of people at the highest risk of being hospitalized.

“What we’ve seen in time is the recommendations have broadened for schoolchildren,” she said. “They can be sick, feel bad, miss work or school … we’re also protecting the very young and the very old, but it also helps to protect the more vulnerable as well."

Drug companies began vaccine production began earlier this summer. Nationally, 165 million doses have been manufactured, Morita said, and production should end in November, supplying enough vaccine to last through May.

Parents should know that, though an identical vaccine is being used this season, children 9 or younger need two shots for each unique vaccine, one month apart, said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

She says it is relatively rare for the same vaccine to be used over consecutive years, but it is understandable because health organizations observed the same strains of virus this year compared with 2010.

A child who received at least one shot in 2010 requires only one dose this season. Once a person has received her shot, antibiotics build up fully in the immune system within about two weeks, Arnold said.

Sheila Allen, a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy, trains third-year pharmacy students how to administer vaccinations. She wants people to understand that they must be newly vaccinated every season because immunity to virus strains wanes in a year.

“There’s no evidence that suggests that people who get vaccines earlier, like in August, are less protected,” Morita said. “Although we know that the peak is in January or later, there is no evidence that those people will have weakened immunity.”

The best time to be vaccinated is before the start of flu season in October, Arnold said.

Siobhan Sullivan, a registered nurse who works at an Evanston retirement community, has administered flu shots for about 10 years. Sullivan said about 90 percent of the geriatric population she works with in Evanston receive annual flu vaccinations, and she has never seen any adverse reactions. She notes that possible redness or irritation at the injection sight might occur.

“I think that the risks without it are greater than the risks it can have on you,” she said. “Sometimes you have to weigh the benefits, the advantages and disadvantages."

Leah Patterson, 21, studies economics at Northwestern University and has received flu shots since she was 15. Patterson’s physician recommended she receive routine vaccination because she has asthma.

“I know there’s the spray as well,” Patterson said of the flu vaccine. “Especially with younger children, I would tend towards that. I know that it’s a good thing from my experience, so I’d do the same with my own children.”