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Nation/World

September 3, 2013

Some flu vaccines promise a little more protection

WASHINGTON — Flu vaccination is no longer merely a choice between a jab in the arm or a squirt in the nose. This fall, some brands promise a little extra protection.

For the first time, certain vaccines will guard against four strains of flu rather than the usual three. Called quadrivalent vaccines, these brands may prove more popular for children than their parents. That’s because kids tend to catch the newly added strain more often.

These four-in-one vaccines are so new that they’ll make up only a fraction of the nation’s supply of flu vaccine, so if you want a dose, better start looking early.

But that’s only one of an unprecedented number of flu vaccine options available this year.

Allergic to eggs? Egg-free shots are hitting the market, too.

Plus there’s growing interest in shots brewed just for the 65-and-older crowd and a brand that targets the needle-phobic with just a skin-deep prick.

“We’re moving away from the one-size-fits-all to choosing the best possible vaccine for an individual’s age and condition,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic.

“The flip side of that,” he said, is that “this will be a confusing year” as doctors and consumers alike try to choose.

Federal health officials recommend a yearly flu vaccine for nearly everyone, starting at 6 months of age. On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some questions and answers about the different vaccine varieties to choose from:

Q: What’s the difference between those new four-strain vaccines and the regular kind?

A: For more than 30 years, the vaccine has offered protection against three influenza strains — two common Type A strains called H1N1 and H3N2, and one strain of Type B. Flu strains continually evolve, and the recipe for each year’s vaccine includes the subtypes of those strains that experts consider most likely to cause illness that winter.

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