New flu vaccine options include 'quad,' egg-free, high-dose

Experts say now is the time to get a flu shot

In his pediatrician's office in Macomb, 1-year-old Logan Mastin is getting his very first flu shot.

As expected, Logan wasn't too happy about it. But tears aside, his parents said this decision was an easy one.

"If we can prevent any kind of illness, I think it's worthwhile," said dad Daniel Mastin.

Logan's doctor agrees.

"It's a deadly disease that we can help prevent with a simple immunization," said St. John Hospital pediatrician Dr. Marcus DeGraw. "We recommend it for everybody."

The CDC now recommends that everyone over six months of age get vaccinated against the flu. This year, there will be up to 139 million doses of flu vaccine available in more than a dozen different forms.

The biggest change involves the quadrivalant vaccine or "quad vaccine."

"That means that there are four components in the vaccine. Up till now we've had three components in the vaccine. Two A viruses and a B virus," said Dr. Arnold Monto, a world renown flu expert and professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Monto literally helped write the book on flu -- he's an editor of the "Textbook of Influenza." He explained the quadrivalant vaccine helps address a growing issue.

"The problem is that we've had two different kinds of B (virus) circulating," said Monto. "It has become impossible to predict which one is going to show up."

This year's "quad vaccine" will protect against four strains of the flu, two A viruses and two B viruses. Only about 22 percent of the vaccine available this year will be "quad vaccine," but that includes all of the nasal spray FluMist. The rest of the flu shots will protect against three strains of influenza.

Also new this year are two flu vaccines that are safe for adults with serious egg allergies. Flucelvax and Flublok are made without using eggs.

People over age 65 also have the option of choosing a high-dose vaccine. It contains four times the usual amount of immunity-producing antigens. Monto said the jury is still out on whether these vaccines are truly better for seniors, but:

"We know that the vaccines are less effective in older people than we would like them to be," said Monto. "So this may be a new approach to better protection of older individuals."

Back for a second year is the intradermal flu shot. It has a needle that's 90 percent smaller and thinner too.

Many parents are concerned about the mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines, but there are several mercury-free flu shots available. Flu shots that are a single dose in a prefilled syringe generally do not contain mercury. The CDC has a list that details the amount of mercury in each manufacturers' shots. Flu shots that come from a multi-dose vial do contain a tiny amount of a mercury. The nasal spray is mercury-free.

Unfortunately, the flu vaccine doctors and patients would most like to see, still isn't available.

"The great goal is a universal vaccine," said Monto. "One that won't have to be changed every year, but that may be a while off."

Last year's flu season started early and hit hard. The CDC said 164 children in the United States died from the flu. Experts say the only thing that's predictable about the flu is its tendency to be unpredictable.

"Last year, it was early, but it was a typical early year because we have had a number of flu seasons starting in late November, early December, often peaking around Christmas and then gone in January," said Monto. "This past flu season really drifted on for a little bit longer than we expected, and it was more severe than usual."

For that reason, experts say now is the best time to get vaccinated, regardless of which vaccine you choose.

"Go with what you can get, there are some choices, but it is better to get vaccinated than to not get vaccinated," said Monto.

It's advice DeGraw shares with his young patients' parents.

"We see serious flu cases every day in our hospital, so when we see it, it is frustrating because we know we can prevent those cases," said DeGraw.

Logan's parents said, hopefully thanks to his flu shot, he won't be one of those cases.

To learn more about the influenza vaccines available this year, click here.