WASHINGTON, D.C. ― Everyone 6 months of age and older should receive an annual influenza vaccine, health officials advised at a press conference held by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

In addition to flu vaccines, the panel also recommended pneumococcal vaccines for people aged 65 and older and for adults aged 19-64 with certain chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

The 2015-2016 vaccines have different influenza A (H3N2) and influenza B (Yamagata lineage) components compared with last season’s vaccines. These changes were made based on expert predictions of which strains will circulate this season. More than 170 million influenza vaccine doses are expected to be available, and about 40 million have already been distributed.

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“Occasionally, flu viruses will change substantially after they are included in the vaccine. This can result in lower than usual vaccine effectiveness, which is what happened last season,” said Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the CDC. “But this season’s vaccine has been updated, and vaccination is always our first and best defense in fighting flu and protecting public health.”

Several different types of influenza vaccines are now available in addition to the traditional vaccine. For patients who fear needles, there are nasal spray and intradermal needle options. For those who have egg allergies, an egg-free vaccine is now available.

In the 2014-2015 flu season, approximately 47% of the United States population received the annual flu vaccine. However, the season was marked by a particularly low vaccine efficacy rate due to a mutated strain of H3N2 that did not match the strain in the vaccine. This mutated strain accounted for the majority of flu cases.

Dr. Frieden highlighted three steps that the public can take to help prevent and reduce the severity of influenza:

  1. Get vaccinated annually
  2. Take everyday preventive actions, such as staying home if you are sick and covering your mouth when you cough
  3. If you are prescribed antivirals when you are sick, take them to help decrease the duration and severity of your illness