By CINDY STAUFFER
Several new versions of the flu vaccine are debuting this year — more powerful, more protective, even a version for those with egg allergies — but they are so new they are not yet widely available.
Health experts, however, say you still will be able to get the traditional flu shot this year, which you should if you are at least 6 months old.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health both are urging people to get a flu shot as soon as it's available.
"It's not too early to get it," said Dr. Carrie DeLone, the state's physician general.
Pharmacies are now giving the shot, as are local physician offices. Hospitals will start to vaccinate employees next month, and the state health department is rolling out its clinics.
Limited supplies of the new types of flu vaccines will be available locally, including:
n A high-dose vaccine for people age 65 and older.
The new vaccine contains additional amounts of vaccine that stimulate the production of antibodies to marshal a stronger defense against the flu in the elderly, who are the most at risk for a severe illness or death from the flu.
n A quadrivalent form of the vaccine, which protects against two A strains of flu and two B strains of flu.
Traditional flu vaccines are trivalent, protecting against two A strains and one B strain. It is the A strain that causes severe illness, but the B strain also can sicken people.
n An egg-free version of the vaccine.
Up until now, people who were allergic to eggs could not get a flu vaccine because the vaccine is made using eggs.
Local hospitals say they will not be offering the high-dose or quadrivalent forms of the vaccine on a wide basis. The two new versions were not available when they ordered their vaccines in the spring.
State health department clinics will offer the quadrivalent vaccine, in both a nasal spray version and an injectable version. But only about 115,000 of the quadrivalent vaccines will be available, compared to about 400,000 of the trivalent vaccines.
DeLone said the CDC does not recommend the quadrivalent vaccine for any particular type of patient so whoever can get it, and wants it, can take it.
People who are uninsured or underinsured and are looking for a flu shot at a state health clinic can call 1-877-PA HEALTH.
At pharmacies, the quadrivalent vaccine is available on a limited basis, and will cost about $10 more than the trivalent version.
Pharmacies also are offering the high-dose vaccine for the 65-and-over crowd.
Some soon-to-be-published reports show that the high-dose vaccine does appear to be effective among senior citizens, said Dr. Neil A. Greene, chief of the infectious disease division at Lancaster General Hospital.
If the high-dose vaccine continues to prove to be effective, it likely will become more widely available next year, he said.
While nobody knows how bad the upcoming flu season will be, last year's outbreak still is fresh in the minds of many local caregivers.
The worst season in at least a decade, the 2012-13 flu killed 10 people here and sickened more than 1,800.
"After last year, I think more people will be willing to roll their sleeve up," said Peg Holland, infection control coordinator at Ephrata Community Hospital. "It was rough."
Last year, LGH required its employees to get the flu vaccine to protect its patients and staff. Ephrata is doing so this year.
Heart of Lancaster and Lancaster Regional Medical Centers do not require their employees to get the shot. But they do require them to a submit a reason if they do not get the vaccine, and to wear a mask around patients and other employees during flu season, said Marla Konas, infection control nurse.
Even employees with an egg allergy may not have an iron-clad reason not to get the shot anymore, as this year a new egg-free shot became available.
Egg allergies are rare — only 20 to 30 people out of the 8,000 or so Lancaster General Health employees last year got deferments for the allergy, Greene said.
In addition to getting vaccinated, you can do other things to protect yourself from contracting or spreading the flu, DeLone said.
Wash your hands often. Cover your mouth when you cough. Don't go to work or send your children to school if flu symptoms develop.
And if you do develop the flu, get to your physician as soon as possible for anti-viral medications, which can lessen the severity of the illness, Greene said.