Phyllis could be the poster child for disaster preparedness. Every hurricane season,
her cupboards are well-stocked. But, there was one time of year she was never ready
for: flu season. “It seemed like I was getting sick every flu season. I had
no resistance,” says Phyllis.
When her daughter became pregnant, Phyllis agreed to watch the baby when her daughter
returned to work. Phyllis knew then that she needed to get a flu shot. Since HMSA
was offering flu shots at no cost to its members at the Hawaii Seniors’ Fair,
she made it a priority to go. “It was the best thing I ever did,” she
says. “It was so easy.”
What is not as simple is producing an effective flu shot. Since flu strains are
always changing, it is hard to pinpoint which strains will be circulating by the
time the flu shots are produced and administered.
To help, a viral surveillance (much like a storm watch) occurs annually around the
world, including Hawai‘i. Currently, 122 national influenza centers in 94
countries track influenza-related illnesses, detect which viruses are circulating,
and measure their impact.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centers for Reference and Research
on Influenza then review and analyze the information. In February, about eight months
before the flu season hits the Northern Hemisphere, WHO forecasts which viruses
are more likely to strike hardest and recommends three virus strains to be included
in the new flu vaccine.
As soon as the recommendation is issued, private-sector manufacturers begin producing
the vaccine. Since it takes at least six months to produce large quantities of the
vaccine, some companies start even earlier, based on which strains they think will
Because the virus is grown in chicken eggs, people who are allergic to them should
not receive the flu shot. Also, the flu shot is not recommended for those with a
history of Guillain-Barré syndrome or for babies who are less than 6 months old.
In the U.S., upon receiving the recommendation from WHO, a Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) advisory committee makes the final decision on exactly which strains will
be included in the new flu shot.
In previous years, the virus strains in the vaccine were well matched to the circulating
viruses, making the flu shot very effective. But last flu season, two of the three
vaccine strains did not match what was going around. To prevent that from happening
again, the FDA revamped this year’s vaccine with three completely new virus
strains that are expected to provide better protection.
Depending on your overall health and the length and intensity of the flu season,
the flu shot can be 70 percent to 90 percent effective. Even if the vaccine strains
do not match perfectly, the vaccine still offers some protection by lessening the
illness’ severity and complications. So, it is essential that you arm yourself
during the flu season with a flu shot.
hmsa.com for a list of HMSA flu shot clinics.