New Science Leads To More Vaccine Options This Flu Season

Flu season is officially here, with new options and developments in vaccines. Because last winter's flu outbreak was particularly severe, infectious disease experts are urging people to get immunized.

Unfortunately, last year was a bad season for flu. More children and seniors than usual got sick and even died (CDC report on 2012-3 flu season).

Dr. Scott Lea is an infectious disease professor at UTMB.

“People forget that influenza is a killer and it is a major epidemic each year in terms of how it affects the elderly and the very young. And those people are at risk for mortality or death if they’re not properly protected and properly treated.”

To beef up protection, manufacturers have new types of vaccines available this year.

One is the so-called quadravalent vaccine, “quad” referring to the number four. It protects against four different strains of circulating flu virus, instead of the usual three.

Dr. Lea says most adults will still only need the regular vaccine that protects against the three.  

But some doctors and pharmacies will have the quadravalent shot, which is recommended for certain vulnerable people like pregnant women.

In addition, there are two brands of vaccine that are manufactured in a new and different way.

Currently, most flu vaccines are developed by growing the flu virus in chicken eggs. Again, Dr. Lea:

“If you think about it, it’s a high-protein environment that has all the things any living individual would need to grow and proliferate, and viruses are no different. They seem able to live within the eggs.”

The new options are called cell-based vaccines.  

One brand is Flucelvax. It grows the virus in an animal cell culture derived from a dog’s kidney.

Another brand, FluBlock, doesn’t use chicken eggs or even the flu virus itself. It uses an insect virus and DNA manipulation. FluBlock could be particularly helpful for people who have egg or chicken allergies and can’t use the regular vaccine.

Health experts say that supply and distribution of the flu vaccines were not affected by the federal government shutdown.

Porfirio Villareal is with Houston’s health department.

“Vaccine distribution is not impacted and in fact in our clinics we already 1500 doses at each of our four health centers. And if we do need to order more we can do so.”

Villareal says vaccines were shipped earlier than usual this year, and so they’re available at clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices right now. 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...