We’re fast approaching the 2023 flu season. No one likes being laid-up and feeling the discomfort the flu brings, not to mention missing out on celebrating Thanksgiving and other seasonal events at the end of the year because you are contagious and too sick to travel. We recently sat down with Brandon J. Essink, MD, CPI, Chief Physician Officer and Principal Investigator at Velocity Clinical Research in Omaha, NE, to get his expert opinions on the best time to get the flu vaccine, how they work, and why Velocity is always working on developing new and better vaccines to help people thrive.
Are flu shots safe and effective?
Yes, based on all the studies that we have previously done. Obviously, there’s risk to any type of medication or anything that you ingest, but yes, flu shots in general are very safe for most patients. The effectiveness of the flu shot depends on the year, but some years they’re up to 80% effective. Maybe four or five years ago, we had a season where we completely missed the strains, and it was about 20% effective. And most of the time we’re pretty good, but there are years all four strains were missed.
How do traditional flu vaccines work?
Typically, flu vaccines work by helping your body create antibodies. They’re originally grown in eggs, and they basically mimic what the surface of the virus would be and then your body creates antibodies to fight it. The newer versions of flu vaccines are more synthetically created via a cell culture.
Tell us about mRNA flu vaccines, and what may be more promising about that approach…
Well, a couple of things. One, mRNA vaccines can be manufactured very quickly. Two, the mRNA vaccine itself is in the body less than 24 hours. So, it’s very quick where sometimes some of the older versions of vaccines stay your body for a little bit longer. If you did have an adverse reaction or side effect to it that might last a little bit longer. [With mRNA], you’re less likely to have any type of allergic reaction to it.
When will the 2023 flu vaccines be available and when is the optimum time to get it?
Some of the older versions of the vaccines are still available, and you’ll start seeing those around August. I’ve never been a huge fan of getting those early. I think you’re always better off [waiting until] we see flu outbreaks really kick in, which typically is when we see a lot more people traveling as Thanksgiving approaches. However, for older, higher risk patients, typically we will recommend the higher dose vaccines in September or October.
There are many flu vaccines on the market today and they’re generally effective. Why is Velocity testing new vaccines?
We always think there’s going to be a vaccine that’s better, there’s going to be a vaccine that’s easier to produce. We always want to have a vaccine that has fewer side effects and works better.