As this year’s particularly tough flu season appears to be fading, UPMC is already preparing more options to help the public and employees defend against the flu next season.
The health care system’s flu task force recently approved making three additional flu vaccine options standard, with plans to have the options available to UPMC physician offices, urgent care clinics and employee health centers late summer, when vaccine manufacturers begin shipments.
“I strongly support this measure,” said Rick Zimmerman, M.D., a professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Family Medicine, who specializes in immunizations and vaccine-preventable diseases. “The influenza vaccine is the best way to avoid what can be a truly devastating illness, and it’s recommended for everyone older than 6 months. UPMC’s new flu shot options are guided by the most recent research and offer vaccines that have the highest likelihood of giving each person the best possible protection against the flu.”
In addition to the standard flu vaccine, which is made each year to protect against the three strains of flu that world health officials predict are most likely to be in circulation, UPMC will be adding:
- A vaccine called “inactivated influenza vaccine 4,” or IIV4, which adds a fourth strain for protection against the four flu strains most likely to be circulating. In the 2012-13 flu season, a strain of flu that was not covered by the standard three-strain flu vaccine caused the majority of the flu cases in Pittsburgh and nationwide. This vaccine is recommended for people 6 months of age and older. If manufacturers are low on supplies, the three-strain vaccine will be offered.
- A “high-dose” vaccine, which has four times the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibodies against the flu. Recent research has found that the high-dose vaccine, recommended for adults 65 and over, decreases pneumonia related to flu-like illness in the elderly.
- A “recombinant influenza vaccine,” or RIV, which does not contain any egg protein. This will be recommended for adults ages 18 to 49 with severe egg allergies. The standard flu vaccine is created using eggs, meaning it isn’t safe for people who have anaphylaxis to eggs.
“We’re really proud of this accomplishment,” said Tami Minnier, chief quality officer for UPMC. “And next year we want it to be even higher. By offering these additional options, we want to vaccinate as many people as possible – both our employees and people in the communities we serve – with the best vaccine for them. The more people we can protect against the flu, the less serious cases we’ll see in our hospitals.”
And even though UPMC is looking ahead to the next flu season, Minnier noted that this year’s flu season isn’t over yet--and it isn’t too late to get this year’s flu shot. Available at physician offices and UPMC Urgent Care locations throughout the region, this year’s standard flu vaccine is a good match to the H1N1 strain causing the most serious illnesses.