Health Team

This year's flu vaccine is expected to be more effective

Posted September 24, 2008 5:32 p.m. EDT
Updated September 25, 2008 10:08 p.m. EDT

— Fall is here and, as always, it is a time to think about getting vaccinated for the coming flu season.

Senior citizens are among those most at risk, and there are other vaccines for them to consider as well.

In past few years, there has always been a hitch in our flu vaccination efforts. There were problems with supply and distribution setbacks. Then last year, the vaccine was only 50 percent effective for the strain that appeared, and some people caught the flu anyway.

“What's different is that this year, for the first time ever, all three different strains that are in the flu vaccine are brand new to give us a better match between the wild-type flu and what the vaccine protects against,” said Dr. David Weber, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

An infectious disease expert, Weber said that planning to get their flu shots is a good time for seniors to ask about the shingles – or herpes zoster – vaccine.

Each year, there are up to a million shingles cases in the U.S. It is a painful rash that can become severe in some people.

"Anyone who's had chicken pox is at risk of getting shingles and, by age 60 – virtually anyone in the population has had chicken pox," Weber said.

Seniors are also most at risk for pneumonia, and there is a vaccine for that as well.

“So we have three vaccines for adults: Influenza, starting at age 50. We have the zoster vaccine starting at age 60, and the pneumococcal vaccine starting at age 65,” Weber said.

That kind of protection can add years to your life, Weber said.

The flu vaccine used to be given to children aged 6 months to 4 years of age. There is a new push to target 6-month-olds up to 18-year-olds. That is because those children and teens often live in homes with older adults who are most at risk.

WRAL's Dr. Allen Mask recommends the vaccine for everyone above 6 months of age – but especially senior citizens and people with chronic respiratory problems, people with lowered immunity and pregnant women. All health care workers should also get the shot.