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Flu vaccination guidelines for people aged 65 and older changed this year

Staff and wire reports

Pennsylvania's flu season appears to be off to an early start, according to the state Department of Health.

Health officials reported more than 3,000 cases of the flu statewide, including 218 from York County. At this point in most other recent years, the state had reported only a dozen or so cases.

A busy flu season was not unexpected. The nation saw two mild seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts have worried that flu might come back strong as a COVID-weary public has moved away from masks and other measures that tamp the spread of respiratory viruses.

“We are seeing more cases than we would expect at this time,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Dr. José Romero said.

Pennsylvania health officials say flu season has started earlier this year.

For most people, the CDC has a simple message regarding flu vaccines: Get one.

For people 65 and older, the message is a little more specific this year.

People ages 6 to 64 are advised to use any licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccine. The options include inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV), recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV), or live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), with no preference for any one version over the other.

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People 65 and older, however, are advised to get one of three higher-dose flu vaccines the CDC is recommending over the standard doses. Those vaccines are Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine, Flublok Quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine and Fluad Quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine. Quadrivalent vaccines contain four different strains of the influenza virus, an effort to better combat the versions expected to circulate this year.

FILE - A man receives a flu shot in Brattleboro, Vt., on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. Doctors have a message for vaccine-weary Americans: Don't skip your flu shot this fall 2022. And for the first time, seniors are urged to get a special extra-strength kind. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP, File)

If those aren’t available, the CDC recommends getting any available vaccine.

Flu is widespread in Alabama, one of three states currently experiencing the worst outbreaks in the U.S. Influenza typically peaks between December and February — and it takes about two weeks after vaccination for flu antibodies to develop in the body, so the CDC recommends that unvaccinated people get the flu jab as soon as possible.

“While ideally it’s recommended to get vaccinated by the end of October, it’s important to know that vaccination after October can still provide protection during the peak of flu season,” CDC guidance notes.

Guidance for children

Some children will need two flu doses, the CDC reminds people.

An annual flu vaccine is recommended for most children ages 6 months and older. Children ages 6 months to 8 years receiving their first flu vaccines — who have not previously received a total of two or more doses in their lives — or whose flu vaccine history isn’t known need two doses.

If your child previously got two doses of flu vaccine, they only need one dose this season.

Recommendations for a second flu shot for some children isn’t new but can be important during a heavy flu season, especially as COVID-19 continues to circulate. Children younger than 5 — especially those younger than 2 — are at higher risk of developing serious-flu related complications such as pneumonia, dehydration or sinus and ear infections.

AL.com reporter Leada Gore and the Associated Press contributed to this report.