Since flu vaccines are created using chicken eggs, does that mean you and your family are at risk for salmonella poisoning if you get the flu vaccine this year? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and vaccine manufacturers the answer is no.
Yes, the Flu vaccine is made by growing the virus in chicken eggs, and eggs are the source of a salmonella outbreak this summer that has led to nearly 1,470 illnesses and prompted a nationwide egg recall.
But the eggs used to make flu vaccine come from different farms than those sold to consumers as food. Considered an important part of the government's arsenal against a flu pandemic, they're also tested vigorously for pathogens, officials say.
Eggs used for vaccines are fertilized, while those sold for eating are not.
A "seed virus" is injected into eggs, then grows in the egg white and is later harvested for use in vaccine.
"The recent August 2010 salmonella outbreak in shell eggs for food consumption and subsequent recall does not affect 2010-2011 influenza virus vaccine production, safety or availability," an FDA spokeswoman confirmed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January, and beyond. This is because the timing and duration of influenza seasons vary. While influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later.
While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it’s especially important that the following groups get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications:
- Pregnant women
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- People 50 years of age and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
- Health care workers
- Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
- Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
What kind of protection does the flu vaccine offer?
Flu vaccines aren't 100 percent effective. According to the CDC, when the match between flu vaccine and circulating strains of flu virus is close, a flu shot is between 70 and 90 percent effective in warding off influenza in healthy people under age 65.
The standard flu shot is less effective for older adults because they produce fewer antibodies in response to the virus. A new higher-dose vaccine has been approved for use in people age 65 and older. If you're interested in receiving the higher-dose vaccine, ask your doctor if it's available in your area.
Why do children need two doses of the flu vaccine?
Children younger than 9 years old require two doses of the flu vaccine, spaced at least four weeks apart, if it's the first time they've been vaccinated for influenza. That's because children don't develop an adequate antibody level the first time they get the vaccine. If a flu vaccine shortage occurred and your child couldn't get two doses of vaccine, one dose might still offer some protection.
Can I lower my risk of the flu without getting a flu shot?
With or without a flu shot, you can take steps to help protect yourself from the flu and other viruses. Good hygiene remains your primary defense against contagious illnesses.
Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water.
Use an alcohol-based sanitizer on your hands.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth whenever possible.
Avoid crowds when the flu is most prevalent in your area.