This year’s influenza vaccine has changed to cover new strains expected to be active this season, according to experts at Baylor College of Medicine.

"The new strains in the vaccine are based on the strains that circulated in the Southern Hemisphere that are expected to be prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere this winter," said Dr. Flor Muñoz, assistant professor of pediatrics--infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

New H3N2 A as well as B strain

This year’s flu vaccine covers the same 2009 H1N1 influenza A strain that continues to circulate since the pandemic, but will include a new H3N2 influenza A strain as well as a new B strain. It is important to receive this year’s vaccine to be protected against the flu.

According to Muñoz, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations indicate that everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against influenza. Influenza vaccines are available in the form of a shot given in the muscle and a nasal spray. Healthy persons between the ages of 2 and 49 years have the option of getting the nasal spray instead of the shot, but anyone with underlying health conditions needs to get the shot.

Time to take effect

Because the vaccine is currently readily available and it takes about one to two weeks to have full protection against influenza, it’s recommended that people get vaccinated now.

Children between 6 months and 8 years of age who have never been vaccinated before must get two doses of the vaccine within one month of one another to be fully protected. Children in that age group who were not completely immunized in the past must also get two doses this year to be fully protected. Muñoz recommends parents consult with their child’s pediatrician to see how many doses their child needs.

For those who are hesitant about getting vaccinated, Muñoz emphasizes that the influenza vaccine is safe. Symptoms such as body aches and malaise are common after receiving the flu vaccine, but the influenza vaccine does not cause the flu.

Especially important for older adults

The vaccine has proven to be quite effective in preventing complications from the influenza virus. This is especially important for older adults and young children, who are more susceptible to severe complications if they get the flu, including hospitalization and death.

Although some people may still get the flu after being vaccinated, the illness may be milder than it would be if they were not vaccinated.

"Remember that getting vaccinated protects you and others around you, especially if you have a newborn infant or someone in your household who cannot be vaccinated. You will be protecting them by vaccinating everyone around them to prevent bringing the flu into the home," said Muñoz.

This is also true for those with underlying conditions such as asthma and heart disease that cause them to be more susceptible to severe complications from influenza. They and others in their household should be vaccinated to prevent complications from influenza.