By Andrew M. Seaman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - With a new version of the flu vaccine that protects against four virus strains coming out this fall, in addition to the usual three-strain formula, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids should get either one.
"We don't have a preference," Dr. Michael Brady, chairperson of the AAP's Committee on Infectious Diseases, said.
But while the new four-strain vaccine is rolling out, if supplies are limited in some areas, parents should not delay getting their kids immunized to hold out for one version of the vaccine or another, the committee emphasized.
Currently, both the AAP and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone six months old and older get vaccinated against the flu.
The CDC estimates that about 20,000 children younger than five years old are hospitalized every year because of complications from the flu.
Last flu season, 158 children's deaths were tied to the virus.
Previously, flu vaccines only protected against three strains of the flu - two strains of influenza A, which usually causes more cases of flu and more severe illness each year, and one strain of influenza B, which is less common but also circulates in multiple versions.
This year, some vaccines will include protection against a second strain of influenza B.
Still, the AAP doesn't recommend that parents wait for the four-strain vaccine to become available in their area.
"What we were concerned with was that people wouldn't get their children immunized if the doctor only had the trivalent or three-strain vaccine," Brady, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said.
"Vaccination should not be delayed to obtain a specific product for either dose," the committee writes in the journal Pediatrics.
"As soon as your provider says they have it, people should start getting it," Brady said.
Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said the four-strain vaccine may offer more protection, but availability is currently an issue.
"It's that interim time before these companies make enough quadrivalent (or four-strain) vaccines to cover the number of people who use it in the U.S. and around the world," Offit said.
For the upcoming flu season, which typically runs from October to May, both the three- and four-strain vaccines will be available for injection.
Vaccines made for nasal delivery, such as Flu Mist, will protect against all four strains and are approved for use by anyone between 2 and 49 years old, though not for pregnant women.
Offit told Reuters Health that he expects only four-strain vaccines will be available within two years.
This year, there are also two flu vaccines that are manufactured without using eggs, which may offer protection to people with severe egg allergies. Those, however, are only available to people 18 years old and older.
"For the severely egg allergic, they could consider these vaccines," Offit said.
Brady reiterated that it's important to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"We're trying to immunize 150 million or more people…trying to get all those people vaccinated at one time is challenging. So as soon as people get the vaccine available… they should get it and shouldn't wait," he said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/18oncKI Pediatrics, online September 2, 2013.