Seasonal flu activity in the United States can begin as early as October, and commonly peaks in January or February. One of the most effective ways to fight the flu is to get vaccinated — either with the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine. But which one is best for you? Should you still get vaccinated even though the flu season has started?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should get flu vaccine as long as influenza viruses are circulating. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that provide protection against the flu.
Now, comes the lingering question — should you get flu shot or nasal spray vaccine?
The obvious difference between the two is the manner of administration; flu shot is given by injection (usually into the upper arm) while the nasal flu vaccine is sprayed into the nose.
Flu shot is available in the following options: regular flu shot, high dose flu shot, and intradermal flu shot. A regular flu shot is given to people ages 6 months and older; a high dose flu shot is approved for people ages 65 and older; and intradermal flu shot is given to people ages 18 to 64 years old. Intradermal flu shot uses a very fine needle that is 90 percent smaller than the needles used for regular flu shots, making it a more suitable option for people who dislike needles. Another feature of the intradermal vaccine is that it requires 40 percent less antigen than the regular flu shot.
Flu shot is approved for healthy people, pregnant women, as well as those with chronic medical conditions. But people with severe reaction to an influenza vaccination and allergy to chicken eggs should not get a flu vaccine. Likewise, people who have moderate-to-severe illness with a fever should forego vaccination until they recover.
Nasal spray vaccine, on the other hand, is approved for use in healthy people ages 2 through 49 years of age. However, children below 2 years of age; pregnant women; adults 50 years old and above; people with severe allergy to eggs; children less than 5 years of age with a history of recurrent wheezing; children or adolescents taking aspirin; and people who have heart disease, lung disease (like asthma), diabetes, kidney disease, Guillain-Barré syndrome, or an immune system weakened by disease or by its treatment are not advised to have nasal spray vaccine.
Both flu shot and nasal spray vaccine are associated with some mild side effects which usually last 1 to 2 days. Side effects that could occur after a flu shot include low grade fever, aches, and redness or swelling of the area where the shot was given.
For nasal spray vaccine, side effects include runny nose and headache for both children and adults. In children, these symptoms may also be accompanied by fever, wheezing, muscle aches, and vomiting. In adults, sore throat and cough may also be observed.