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Last year’s flu shot, for example, was determined by federal officials to be only 9 percent effective among the elderly, who were hardest hit by the flu outbreak.
But there have been some improvements in the vaccines.
This year, certain vaccines will guard against four strains of flu instead of the usual three. For healthy people ages 2 to 49, there also are nasal sprays that protect against all four flu strains. (The nasal sprays, which contain live viruses, are not suitable for those younger than 2 and older than 49 because their immune systems tend to be weaker.) There also are specialized shots, including one that penetrates just below the skin for those who don’t like needles; a higher-dose shot for people age 65 and older; and one that’s grown without eggs for those with egg allergies.
In the Upper Midwest, flu season typically runs from October through May. Flu shot promotions are in full force now, but flu activity in Minnesota has so far been at a very low level, said Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health.
That could change. Flu activity typically peaks in mid-January.
Ehresmann recommends getting vaccinated before then, because it takes two weeks for the vaccine to be effective. She tries to explain that getting a flu shot, no matter how imperfect, isn’t just about protecting individuals from contracting the flu. It’s about stopping the virus from spreading and possibly becoming a pandemic.
She’s also hopeful that the weapons in the fight against the flu will only get better.“In the last three or four years, we’ve learned a lot more about influenza,”she said. “There’s a greater attention to influenza, the vaccine and its effectiveness. We’re learning all the time and the important message is that new data keeps coming out.”
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488