Coming soon to an arm near you: A flu shot that uses a tiny needle to deliver the vaccine.
The ultra-fine needle is 90 percent shorter than the ones used for typical flu shots, its maker says, and it pierces just the skin rather than the deltoid muscle in the upper arm.
» Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
» Wash hands often with soap. You also can use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
» Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
» Talk to your doctor about antivirals if you do contract the flu. These prescription medicines can make you feel better faster.
» Stay home if you are sick until at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (100°F) or signs of a fever (without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).
The flu vaccine has not been approved for use in babies under 6 months old. However, there are some things you can do to help protect your baby:
» Keep your infant out of crowded areas and away from people who are sick.
» Avoid sharing toys and other items that have been in infants' mouths.
» Wash thoroughly with soap and water any items that have been in infants' mouths.
The skin-deep shots address one barrier for people who otherwise might not get vaccinated, said Donna Cary, a spokeswoman for manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur.
"Some people are needle-phobic," she said. "They admit it."
The tiny shots — called Fluzone Intradermal influenza vaccine — can be given to adults ages 18 through 64, and should be available starting Friday at Kohll's Pharmacy & Homecare locations. A Kohll's official said pricing hadn't been set. Several other Omaha pharmacies said they don't have the new shots; some said they might carry them in the future.
You can, of course, get regular flu shots and the FluMist nasal spray at pharmacies and clinics throughout the region. For weeks, area pharmacies have trumpeted the availability of flu shots on their store signs.
Unlike the shortages seen a few years ago, plenty of influenza vaccine is available this year. Vaccine manufacturers say about 170 million doses of the vaccine will be available for use in the U.S. during the 2011-12 flu season.
Nebraska and Iowa health officials are encouraging everyone over the age of 6 months to get a flu shot this year.
The more people who get vaccinated, they say, the fewer who will come down with influenza, lowering the risk to people with underdeveloped or compromised immune systems.
Babies, for example, "have the highest hospitalization rate (from flu) of any population," said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director for the Iowa Department of Public Health. "Everybody around that baby should be vaccinated."
Also, if school-aged children are fully vaccinated, it better protects the elderly, who also are at high risk, she said. Children act as the main transmitters of the flu, Quinlisk said.
"By making sure all the kids and, of course, all the teachers are vaccinated," she said, the spread of the flu "is stopped by that wall of people who are immune."
People who say they never get the flu still might be transmitters of the virus. Seemingly healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning a day before their symptoms develop, officials say.
The composition of this year's influenza vaccine is the same as the one given last year. Still, Dr. Joann Schaefer, Nebraska's chief medical officer, said people need a shot now because the vaccine "does wear off after a certain amount of time. ... If it's longer than a year, nobody is feeling confident that you're getting that antibody protection."
Kim Butler and Kylie Ling, nurses at Creighton University Medical Center, were getting regular flu shots Wednesday afternoon at the hospital. Butler said she thought the skin-deep shot would encourage more people to get vaccinated.
"Even around here," she said, "they don't like receiving shots."
Ling wondered, though, whether people who were strongly needle-averse would be swayed by the tiny needle. "It's still a needle," she said.
After her shot, Ling said it hurt as the vaccine was going in, but the pain soon abated. "I've gotten the shot for seven years and never had the flu," she said. "It works for me."
Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of the skin-deep shot, notes that in a U.S. trial involving people ages 18 through 64, more reported redness, hardness, swelling and itching with the intradermal (little needle) shots than did those who received intramuscular (big needle) shots. The amount of pain at the injection site was about the same for both groups, the company said.
"You definitely will, on most patients, have some type of reaction," said Dr. Linda Ford, a Bellevue-based allergy and immunology physician who reviewed the company's data. The reaction, she said, shows "that there could be an irritant as well as an immunological reaction. ... What we typically see deeper within the muscle is happening up on your skin."
The intradermal shots are just as effective as regular flu shots, said Cary, the company spokeswoman. She has had the intradermal shot. Afterward, she said, she had a small red spot on her arm, but the next day couldn't tell where the vaccine had been injected.
"What we've seen outside the U.S.," Cary said, "is that pretty much 98 percent of the people who receive this vaccine say they only want this method of administration in the future."
This is the first year that the shots have been available in the U.S.
Contact the writer: