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Flu vaccine comes in growing array of options

Many people will continue to be vaccinated with the traditional jab in the arm this year, but the array of influenza vaccine choices is growing. Some versions of the vaccine now guard against four strains of the influenza virus instead of the usual three.

WILLMAR — This year's supply of influenza vaccine includes more options than ever before.

Want extra protection? Some versions of the vaccine now guard against four strains of the influenza virus instead of the usual three.

Allergic to eggs? An egg-free vaccine has been developed that will become available locally next month, although in limited quantities.

A relatively new intradermal form of the flu vaccine also will be offered at some flu shot clinics.

And don't forget FluMist, the inhaled version of the vaccine that does away with needles altogether.

Consumers lining up for their annual flu shot need to read the fine print, however: Not all forms of flu vaccine are offered everywhere, and some are best suited for certain populations such as children or healthy younger adults.

The vaccine is recommended for anyone 6 months and older who wants to reduce their chance of getting sick with influenza.

Although many people will continue to be vaccinated with the traditional jab in the arm, the array of choices is growing.

This year for the first time, Affiliated Community Medical Centers will offer an egg-free vaccine to people who have severe allergy to eggs, the medium in which flu vaccine is usually grown.

It's the first year an egg-free product has been available, and it should benefit people who were unable to receive a flu shot in the past because of their allergy, said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center at ACMC.

"There's not a large number of them, but at least we have an option for those people," she said.

ACMC's supply of egg-free vaccine isn't here yet but is expected to arrive by mid-October, she said.

It's not for everyone, however. The product is licensed for ages 18 to 49; anyone older or younger than that won't be able to receive it.

Kandiyohi County Public Health is offering an intradermal version of the flu vaccine at its workplace flu shot clinics and for private-pay public health customers. This form of the flu vaccine doesn't entirely eliminate a needlestick but lessens it somewhat with a microneedle that only penetrates the top layer of skin.

Adults ages 18 to 64 are eligible to receive the intradermal product, said Deb Schmitzerle, who oversees the vaccination program at Kandiyohi County Public Health. The supply is limited, however, she said.

Some forms of intranasal flu vaccine, available to healthy children and adults ages 2 to 49 and delivered via a spray into the nose, this year will protect against four strains of the flu virus rather than the usual three.

The new quadrivalent version of the nasal spray should be especially beneficial for children, as it offers protection against an additional B strain of the flu virus that occurs more often among a younger population, DeBruycker said.

Research is showing that greater protection for kids means a reduced spread of influenza to the rest of the community, she noted. "It spreads from younger people to older people, so if we can slow the transmission we're ahead of the game."

The overall U.S. flu vaccine supply is expected to be plentiful this fall. Shipments are already arriving locally at medical clinics, pharmacies and other providers.

Even though fall isn't officially here for at least another week, it isn't too soon to be vaccinated. Not only is the vaccine effective for several months, but the start of the influenza season can be unpredictable as well, DeBruycker said.

"We never know when it will start," she said. "The thing that we know about influenza is that we don't know what to expect."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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