First the good news – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine to protect against the 2009-2010 seasonal flu, health officials announced Monday. Then the less than good news – the H1N1 vaccine has had some challenges in development and depending on whom you speak to, it will be mid-October or later before it becomes available – and then in limited supplies to specific target groups. More about that on future days…
So what will the seasonal flu shot protect you against? This vaccine is usually a combination of two “A” influenza viruses and one “B” influenza virus. Based on what was believed to be the most likely viruses to be circulating this year, the 2009-2010 seasonal flu vaccine contains:
• A/Brisbane/59/2007 (H1N1)-like virus.
• A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like virus.
• B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
The agency noted that this vaccine will not protect people from the new H1N1 that has reached pandemic proportions around the world and is expected to return to the United States in the fall. A separate vaccine to protect against that flu strain is now under development and about to undergo testing. When the H1N1 vaccine is released it will take two shots to confer immunity.
Anyone who wants to get a seasonal flu vaccination can, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the shot is particularly recommended for children 6 months up to 19 years old; pregnant women; anyone 50 and older; people with certain chronic medical conditions; people living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; and people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu.
Seasonal flu shots will start appearing much earlier this year (as early as August) in an effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the H1N1 vaccine is released to help avoid confusion. CDC is encouraging most Americans to receive a seasonal flu vaccine because it is expected that the viruses that cause seasonal flu will begin circulating later this year alongside the H1N1 virus.
Employee seasonal flu vaccine programs have an important role to play in awareness and education. When you design your seasonal flu program this year (and I hope you are planning on having one), take time now to work with your provider to have educational materials and teaching available on the following topics:
• The differences between seasonal flu and pandemic flu
• Seasonal flu vaccine vs. pandemic flu vaccine
• Hand hygiene
• Cough hygiene
• Care for a sick person at home
• “Stay home if you are sick” awareness programs
Each year in the United States an estimated 5 percent to 20 percent of the population is stricken with the seasonal flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized and about 36,000 people die. Older people, young children, and people with chronic health problems are at higher risk for flu-related complications.