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The Boston Globe

Nation

New vaccines may offer broader shield against flu

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.

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These four-in-one vaccines are so new that they will 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 is only one of an unprecedented number of flu vaccine options available this year.

If you are allergic to eggs, egg-free shots are hitting the market. Plus there is growing interest in shots tailored 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.

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 specialists consider most likely to cause illness that winter.

Type A flu causes more serious disease and deaths, especially the H3N2 form that made last year such a nasty flu season. But the milder Type B flu does sicken people every year as well, and can kill.

Two distinct Type B families circulate the globe, making it difficult to know which to include in each year’s vaccine.

Adding both does away with the guesswork, and a CDC model estimates it could prevent as many as 485 deaths a year depending on how much Type B flu is spreading.

All the nasal spray versions sold in the United States this year will be of the new variety, called FluMist Quadrivalent.

The nasal vaccine is only for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant.

If you prefer a flu shot, ask the doctor or pharmacist if the four-strain kind is available.

Younger children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions all can use flu shots.

Four-strain versions are sold under the names Fluzone Quadrivalent, Fluarix Quadrivalent, and FluLaval Quadrivalent.

Manufacturers expect to produce 135 million to 139 million doses of flu vaccine this year. Only about 30 million doses will offer the four-strain protection.

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