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Forget Last Year's Hiccups, Go Get Your Flu Shot


Today in Your Health, a cancer drug could help people with Parkinson's disease. But first, flu season is around the corner, and federal health officials say it's time for everyone six months and older to get vaccinated. As NPR's Patti Neighmond reports, this year's flu vaccine is expected to be more effective than last year's.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: For scientists, every year presents a new challenge to predict exactly which strains of the flu will be powerful enough to make people sick. Pritish Tosh is an infectious disease doctor and researcher at the Mayo Clinic. He says there are dozens of different flu strains.

PRITISH TOSH: Influenza is constantly changing.

NEIGHMOND: So the vaccine has to change, too. And every year researchers from around the world meet to figure out which strains will dominate and need vaccines.

TOSH: Unfortunately, it takes several months of lead time to develop the vaccine and get it ready for manufacture to the point where it's able to be actually given to somebody.

NEIGHMOND: Last year, public health officials were taken by surprise when new strains of the virus appeared and the vaccine just wasn't very effective. This year, U.S. officials say things will be different. Flu strains now in circulation are the same ones targeted by the vaccine.

TOSH: The vaccine is about 60 to 70 percent efficacious among healthy adults, and it's less so in older people or people with poor immune systems.

NEIGHMOND: But even for these people, the vaccine is better protection than nothing. Dr. Leonard Friedland is with GSK Vaccines, one of the companies that makes flu vaccine.

LEONARD FRIEDLAND: Vaccines take about two weeks to really begin to have their full effect. So the best time to be vaccinated is as soon as possible so that patients are protected when influenza starts, and it could be starting anytime soon.

NEIGHMOND: Researchers are now working to develop a universal vaccine that would be effective for five to 10 years, but that's a long way off. In the meantime, prevention is the best protection, Friedland says. Get vaccinated. Patti Neighmond, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Award-winning journalist Patti Neighmond is NPR's health policy correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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