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Flu shot is safe for people with egg allergies, experts say

People with egg allergies used to be told to avoid the flu shot, but a national panel of experts now says vaccine is safe
/ Source: TODAY

People with egg allergies don’t have to worry about getting the flu shot, new government guidelines say.

Because the vaccine contains egg protein, doctors used to advise against the shot entirely or to get it only in the presence of an allergist if someone had a known allergy. But a national panel of experts said Tuesday that egg allergies shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting the shot and that reactions to the vaccine are no more likely among those with allergies than anyone else.

The Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters even went so far as to suggest that medical professionals not ask about egg allergies at all when offering the shot, according to the set of guidelines published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“It’s been quite a dramatic change,” said guideline coauthor Dr. John Kelso, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego. “As recently as 10 years ago the thought was, if you had an egg allergy, you should not get the flu shot because it was thought you would have a reaction.”

The guidelines come as flu season is starting to rev up. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that influenza was widespread in 12 states, while 26 more had regional activity.

Unfortunately this year’s vaccine is not very effective against one of the circulating strains, but experts say that if you get the flu after getting the shot, your illness will be less severe. That’s because “you already have the antibodies to it and your body has mounted an immune response before you are exposed,” Kelso said.

During the 2015-2016 flu season, an estimated 308,232 people were hospitalized in the United States because of the flu, Kelso and his colleagues noted. And that number included 15,389 children.

“It is estimated that 23,607 deaths occur each year in the United States as a result of influenza, including approximately 124 children,” Kelso and colleagues wrote.

To determine if the vaccine was risky for people with egg allergies, Kelso and his colleagues pored through the medical literature and found 28 studies with data from 4,315 egg allergic patients, including 656 who were severely allergic. Those studies showed that people with egg allergies were no more likely than others to react to a flu shot. No one in the studies had a severe reaction.

“Not vaccinating carries a risk and that’s clearly greater than any risk from the vaccine,” Kelso said.

An earlier version of this story stated the guidelines were issued by the United States Preventive Services Task Force. It has been updated.