Tag: flu myths

Can You Really Get a Flu Shot If You Are Allergic to Eggs?

Are you still worried about your child’s egg allergy and getting them a flu vaccine?

Everyone needs a flu shot. When will you get yours?
Everyone needs a flu shot. Even kids with egg allergies. Photo by Gabriel Saldana (CC BY-SA 2.0)

That’s not surprising, as we once warned people about residual egg proteins in flu vaccines and the possibility of immediate hypersensitivity reactions in those with severe egg allergies.

Flu Vaccines and Egg Allergies

Of course, that advice has now changed, even though most flu vaccines are still prepared in chicken eggs.

“Recent studies have shown that even individuals with confirmed egg allergy can safely receive the flu vaccine. The Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology and the American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics state that no special precautions are required for the administration of influenza vaccine to egg-allergic patients no matter how severe the egg allergy.”

Egg Allergy and the Flu Vaccine

In fact, it began to change in 2011, when we got the recommendation that it was okay to give flu shots to people with egg allergies, if they only get hives as their reaction. It was still recommended that those with more severe allergic reactions to eggs “be referred to a physician with expertise in the management of allergic conditions for further risk assessment before receipt of vaccine.”

Before that, we would sometimes do skin testing on high risk egg allergic kids, desensitization, or regular chemoprophylaxis.

In 2013, the recommendation changed so that those with severe allergic reactions to eggs should get their flu shot “by a physician with experience in the recognition and management of severe allergic conditions.”

The recommendations were again modified in 2016, removing the recommendation that egg-allergic flu vaccine recipients be observed for 30 minutes and that those with severe egg allergies “should be vaccinated in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting (including but not necessarily limited to hospitals, clinics, health departments, and physician offices), under the supervision of a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions.”

Why the changing advice?

It’s because severe allergic reactions to vaccine are rare (in a million doses rare). And even in the flu vaccines that still use eggs, almost all of the egg protein is removed from the final vaccine. So that residual amount of egg protein is unlikely to trigger an allergic reaction. And that’s what we saw as the recommendations were slowly changed year after year.

Getting a Flu Shot When You Are Allergic to Eggs

And that’s why we have our current recommendations:

  • Those with a history of egg allergy who only get hives can get any age-appropriate flu vaccine.
  • Those with a history of egg allergy who have severe reactions, including angioedema, respiratory distress, lightheadedness, recurrent emesis, or who required epinephrine or another emergency medical interventions, can still get any age-appropriate flu vaccine, but they should get it in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting (such as a hospital, clinic, health department, or physician’s office). And the vaccine administration should be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.
  • Those who can eat eggs without reaction can get any age-appropriate flu vaccine.

Do you still have to be observed after getting your flu vaccine if you have an egg allergy?

No postvaccination observation period is recommended specifically for egg-allergic persons.

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

Nope. But that’s likely because although they are rare, reactions might not occur right away.

So yes, you can and you should get a flu vaccine if you are allergic to eggs.

More on Flu Vaccines and Egg Allergies

 

Which Flu Vaccine Should You Get?

After decades with a single type of flu vaccine – the flu shot – there are now many different kinds of flu vaccines that many of us can choose from. And your choices are not just between the nasal spray flu vaccine vs a flu shot. There are also a lot of different kinds of flu shots available now.

Everyone needs a flu shot. When will you get yours?
Everyone needs a flu shot. When will you get yours? Photo by Gabriel Saldana (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Having choices is nice.

It would be also be nice to have a little more guidance on what to do with these choices.

Are any of the flu vaccines better than others?

Which Flu Vaccine Should You Get?

This year, we will have:

  • quadrivalent flu shots – Afluria, Fluarix, FluLaval, Fluzone, Fluzone Pediatric Dose
  • quadrivalent flu shots that are cell-culture based – Flucelvax
  • quadrivalent flu shots that can be given intradermally – Fluzone Intradermal
  • trivalent flu shots – Afluria
  • trivalent flu shots that are adjuvanted – Fluad
  • high dose trivalent flu shots – Fluzone High-Dose
  • quadrivalent flu shots that are made with recombinant technology – Flublok
  • nasal spray flu vaccine – Flumist

Which one should you get?

It is actually easy to start by asking which one you should get for your kids, as many of these flu vaccine options are only available for adults and seniors.

Flu Vaccine Options

Before you start thinking too long and hard about potential options, keep in mind that you might not have as many options as you think.

“Not all products are likely to be uniformly available in any practice setting or locality. Vaccination should not be delayed in order to obtain a specific product when an appropriate one is already available.”

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

Doctors and clinics might not stock multiple brands or types of flu vaccines, so you might have to get whatever flu vaccine that they have available.

“Within these guidelines and approved indications, where more than one type of vaccine is appropriate and available, no preferential recommendation is made for use of any influenza vaccine product over another.”

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

And that’s okay. In most cases, there haven’t been head to head studies showing that one flu vaccine is better than another.

Flu Vaccine Options for Kids

Still, since these options might be available to you, it is good to know about them.

This year, younger kids, between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, can either get:

  • FluLaval Quadrilvalent
  • Fluarix Quadrivalent
  • Fluzone Quadrivalent Pediatric

While you are unlikely to notice a difference, both FluLaval and Fluarix are given at a 0.5ml dose containing 15 µg of HA per vaccine virus, while Fluzone is given at a 0.25ml dose containing 7.5 µg of HA per vaccine virus. Why the difference? “Safety and reactogenicity were similar between the two vaccines,” even at the different doses.

Basically, these are just different brands of the same type of flu shot.

There are even more options as your kids get older though, including  Fluzone Quadrivalent (age three and above), Afluria Quadrivalent or Trivalent (age five and above), Flucelvax Quadrivalent (age four and above), FluLaval and Fluarix.

Of these, some folks wonder if Flucelvax, since it isn’t made in chicken eggs, might be more effective than the others. Remember, one of the things that are thought to make the flu vaccine less effective than most other vaccines is that they are made in eggs, leading to mutations. And there is actually some evidence that those flu vaccines that are not made in eggs might be more effective.

“And the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is taking that a step further, saying it will only be buying the two egg-free vaccines on the market: Flucelvax and FluBlok. That’s because there is some evidence these two formulations may work better than the older vaccines grown in eggs, said Dr. Richard Zimmerman, who advises the UPMC Influenza Committee.”

Guidance on which flu vaccine to get: Shots for kids, maybe go egg-free

Again, remember that the CDC has made “no preferential recommendation” for one flu vaccine over another. Why not? We don’t have enough information to make that kind of recommendation.

Should parents only ask for Flucelvax? That would only work if they made enough doses for every kid to get vaccinated, which they didn’t. Should you hold out until you can find FluceIvax for your kids? No, since doing that might leave them unvaccinated once flu season hits.

What else should you know about your flu vaccine options? While over 80% of flu vaccines are now thimerosal free, most of these flu vaccines are still available in multi-dose vials with thimerosal.

Also thimerosal free, this year, Flumist is back as an option. It is available for healthy kids who are at least two years old. Although the AAP has issued a preference for flu shots this year, the ACIP says that kids can get either Flumist or a flu shot.

What about if your kids are allergic to eggs?

“Persons who report having had reactions to egg involving symptoms other than urticaria (hives), such as angioedema, respiratory distress, lightheadedness, or recurrent emesis; or who required epinephrine or another emergency medical intervention, may similarly receive any licensed, recommended, and age-appropriate influenza vaccine (i.e., any IIV, RIV4, or LAIV4) that is otherwise appropriate for their health status.”

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

Unless they had a severe allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine, they can get any available flu vaccine, especially if the previous reaction was only hives or they are able to eat eggs.

What if you want a flu vaccine without aluminum? Take your pick. While it would be safe it was, aluminum is not an ingredient in flu vaccines.

Flu Vaccine Options for Adults

In addition to all of the flu vaccines available for older kids, adults have a few more options:

  • Afluria Quadrivalent or Trivalent can be given by jet injector  to those between the ages of 18 and 64 years
  • Flublok Quadrivalent – a recombinant flu shot that can be given to those who are at least 19 years old
  • Fluzone High-Dose – a trivalent flu shot with a higher dose of flu virus antigens (4 times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot) that is available for seniors who are at least 65 years old
  • Fluad – a trivalent flu shot with an adjuvant that is available for seniors who are at least 65 years old

Why get a flu vaccine with a jet injector instead of a standard needle? High-pressure jet injectors don’t use needles!

Like FluceIvax, Flublok is not made in chicken eggs. The recombinant hemagglutinin(HA) proteins are made in insect cell lines. Does Flublok work better than egg based flu vaccines? That’s the theory, but again, there is no preference for one of these vaccines over another.

Seniors have even more choices.

Should they get Fluzone High-Dose, Fluad, or one of the other flu vaccines? Both have been shown to be more effective than standard flu vaccines in seniors, but they have not been compared against each other.

“In a Canadian observational study of 282 people aged 65 years and older conducted during the 2011-12 season, Fluad was 63% more effective than regular-dose unadjuvanted flu shots.”

CDC on People 65 Years and Older & Influenza

But neither Fluzone High-Dose nor Fluad are quadrivalent, so only protect against three flu virus strains.

Is there a quadrivalent flu shot for older adults that might work better than standard flu shots?

Yes. FluceIvax and Flublok are non-egg based quadrivalent flu shots that might be more effective than standard flu vaccines.

So are you more confused now that you know you have so many options? Just remember that for most people, the mistake isn’t about choosing the right flu vaccine, it is about not getting vaccinated.

What to Know About Your Flu Vaccine Options

While it might seem like you have a lot more options in a flu vaccine this year and that some might be more effective than others, keep in mind that availability will likely greatly limit these “options.”

And the best flu vaccine is the one that you actually get, as it will be the one that reduces your risk of getting the flu. Missing your chance to get vaccinated and protected because you are waiting for a specific brand or type of flu vaccine isn’t going to help keep the flu away.

More on Your Flu Vaccine Options

Can Flu Shots Cause the Flu?

Most folks get a flu shot each year.

Most, but not all.

Some people still think that getting a flu shot will cause them to have the flu.
Some people still think that getting a flu shot will cause them to have the flu.

Why do some people skip it?

Can Flu Shots Cause the Flu?

Yes, some people think that getting a flu shot will actually cause them to get the flu.

It’s not hard to see why though.

The flu vaccine is not the most effective vaccine we have, so it is certainly possible that you can still get sick with the flu even though you have had your flu vaccine. Of course, that’s not a good reason to skip getting a flu vaccine, as they have lots of benefits.

Some other reasons you might still think that the flu vaccine can cause the flu include that:

  • side effects after a flu shot can include a soreness, low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches, which some people might confuse with a mild case of the flu
  • many other respiratory viruses can make you sick during cold and flu season, none of which the flu vaccine protects you against
  • since the flu vaccine takes about two weeks to work, if you got sick shortly after being vaccinated, you may have already been exposed and developed the flu before the vaccine became effective

But why can’t the flu shot cause the flu?

That’s easy.

It’s because the flu shot is an inactivated vaccine. The influenza virus is killed or inactivated, the viral particles are purified and split up, with only the HA and NA surface glycoproteins remaining. Those glycoproteins can not cause a natural flu infection.

What about Flumist, the nasal spray flu vaccine?

While Flumist is a live virus vaccine, it is made with attenuated or weakened strains of the flu that are cold-adapted, unable to replicate at the warmer temperatures that are found in the lungs and other areas of our bodies.

So Flumist doesn’t cause the flu either.

Hopefully this is one vaccine myth that folks will stop spreading. Remember, flu vaccines don’t cause you to get sick with the flu. Get vaccinated. Flu vaccines are your best protection against the flu.

What about those folks who say that they are going to skip the flu shot because they never get sick with the flu?

They are gambling.

It is estimated that about 5 to 20% of people get the flu each year. Unless you are rarely around other people during flu season, the chances are that you will eventually get the flu, especially if you are unvaccinated and unprotected.

More on the Myth that Flu Shots Cause the Flu

Does the FluMist Vaccine Shed?

Anti-vaccine folks like to talk a lot about shedding.

Where do they get the idea that vaccines shed?

Well, there is the fact that some live vaccines, like the rotavirus and oral polio vaccine, do actually shed.

Does the FluMist Vaccine Shed?

Remember, shedding occurs when an infectious agent, typically a virus, can be found in urine, stool, or other bodily secretions. Shedding is not specific to vaccines though. Shedding occurs very commonly after natural infections too, which is one reason they are so hard to control.

So does the Flumist vaccine shed?

Yes, it does, and it isn’t a secret.

There is actually a warning about shedding and Flumist – to avoid contact with severely immunosuppressed persons (e.g., hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients in a protected enviornment) for seven days after vaccination because of the theoretical risk that their severe immunosuppression might allow the weakened flu strain to somehow cause disease.

This warning obviously doesn’t apply to the great majority of people though.

And it shouldn’t be surprising that it sheds, after all, it is a live virus vaccine that is squirted in your nose!

Why isn’t it usually a problem?

Flumist contains attenuated viral strains of the flu that are temperature-sensitive, so even if you did get infected with the weakened flu strains from Flumist via shedding, they wouldn’t cause disease.

Another way to think about it is that the folks who actually get the Flumist vaccine don’t get the flu, so why would you get the flu if you were simply exposed to the vaccine virus by shedding?

Shedding from the Flumist vaccine doesn't cause disease.
Anti-vaccine folks are sharing this table like they uncovered some secret, but it is important to understand that shedding from the Flumist vaccine doesn’t cause disease. And this table is in package insert for Flumist!

The real concern with shedding is when it leads to folks actually getting sick.

Trying to scare folks about Flumist shedding is just like when they talk about the MMR vaccine, pushing the idea that the rubella vaccine virus might shed into breast milk or measles vaccine virus into urine. Either might happen, but since it won’t cause infection or disease, it certainly isn’t a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines.

What to Know About Shedding and Flumist

The Flumist vaccine does indeed shed, but unless you are going to have contact with someone who is severely immunocompromised in a protected enviornment, this type of shedding isn’t going to get anyone sick and isn’t a reason to avoid this vaccine.

More on Shedding and Flumist