Vaccines, Flu & Other Seasonal Ailments: What You Need To Know

flu vaccine

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Each year it seems we hear rumbles of potential vaccine shortages. Like talks that Pertussis vaccine availability could mean trouble for those who find themselves caring for someone with Whooping Cough.

WHNT News 19 decided to consult an expert to dispel any rumors and get to the truth about season illnesses, vaccines and the timing of treatment and preventative measures.

In the United States shortages of many vaccines in the recommended childhood immunization schedule occurred in the past. Some of these shortages were widespread while others were localized. Reasons for these shortages were multi-factorial and included companies leaving the vaccine market, manufacturing or production problems, and insufficient stockpiles. Consequently, some shortages were only specific to one manufacturer.

Dr. Ali Hassoun with the Alabama Center for Infectious Disease at Huntsville Hospital says despite some fear mongering, vaccine shortage is not a great concern this year.

“At the moment I don’t think there is any main concern of one particular vaccine that’s going to be in shortage soon. There’s always a concern on the long-term if we are going to use certain vaccines more than needed or more than usual, we might end up with that,” Hassoun says.

Hassoun says the theory of a Pertussis vaccine shortage could of course materialize if unforeseen circumstances come into play but he says major unavailability is highly unlikely.

“But really there is nothing from the CDC or the Alabama Department of Health suggestive of any of that.”

Hassoun says on a regular basis the CDC and labs around the state check for changes or mutations in viruses.

“With the flu in some years you’ll see shortage depending on that change in the virus itself. You would need to supply vaccine as much as possible given those changes but actual manufacturing can take a longer time to do it and get the vaccine out there.”

Hassoun says while the vaccine situation is certainly fluid worldwide, right now he thinks those who fall ill have nothing to worry about besides seeking treatment – and getting healthy again.

“There’s really no indication that we can end up with major shortage or a problem with it.”

As far as seasonal flu goes, Dr. Hassoun says medical professional generally look toward the southern hemisphere for an indication of the trend the United States can expect.

“Like in Australia and New Zealand in that part of the world, that’s where the new flu virus starts, for example and we can predict of there’s going to be a major outbreak or problem.”

We asked Dr. Hassoun about some of the common misconceptions about seasonal flu and flu vaccines:

“No,” he says, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness.

Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine).

The most common side effects from the influenza shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur.

In randomized, blinded studies, where some people get inactivated flu shots and others get salt-water shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot.

There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.

Misconceptions about the Timing of Seasonal Influenza Vaccination

Should I wait to get vaccinated so that my immunity lasts through the end of the season?

CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommend that flu vaccinations begin soon after vaccine becomes available, ideally by October.

However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, it is not too late to get vaccinated, even in January or later. While seasonal flu outbreaks can occur as early as October, flu activity most often peaks in January or later. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu virus infection, it is best that people get vaccinated in time to be protected before flu viruses begin spreading in their community.

Although immunity obtained from flu vaccination can vary by person, previously published studies suggest that immunity lasts through a full flu season for most people.

There is some evidence, however, that immunity may decline more quickly in older people. For older adults, another flu vaccine option is available called the “high-dose” vaccine, which is designed specifically people 65 and older.

This vaccine contains a higher dose of antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibody), which is intended to create a stronger immune response in this age group. For more information, see Fluzone High-Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Questions and Answers.

The length of time after receiving a vaccine that you are immune or “duration of immunity” is discussed in the ACIP recommendations. While delaying receipt of vaccine until later in the fall may lead to higher levels of immunity during winter months, the possible benefits of delaying receipt of vaccine must be balanced with problems this may create, such as missed opportunities to receive vaccine and difficulties associated with vaccinating a large number of people within a shorter time period.

Is it too late to get vaccinated after Thanksgiving (or the end of November)?

No. Vaccination can still be beneficial as long as flu viruses are circulating. CDC recommends that providers begin to offer flu vaccination soon after vaccine becomes available in the fall, but if you have not been vaccinated by Thanksgiving (or the end of November), it can still be protective to get vaccinated in December or later. Flu is unpredictable and seasons can vary. Seasonal flu disease usually peaks in January or February most years, but disease can occur as late as May.

“We have to gauge how aggressively any changes may be translated into being more problematic for patients and more issues treatment wise, also symptoms wise,” says Dr. Hassoun.

  • Questions including those dealing with changes in child care and school requirements necessitated by vaccine supply problems when they occur can be answered by State Health Department immunization programs.
  • General immunization questions can be answered by
    The CDC Contact Center at 1-800-CDC-INFO
    (1-800-232-4636) English and Español

How often will this information be updated?
This vaccines shortages page on CDC’s Vaccines & Immunizations site is updated as needed to provide public information on vaccine shortages and/or delays.

The FDA’s web page on Biological Product Shortages provides additional information regarding regulatory issues related to vaccine supply.