A Better Flu Shot for Seniors

For the last four years, doctors, pharmacies, and medical clinics have all offered seniors a higher dose version of the annual flu shot. At the time that the vaccine was released the science was lacking but the hope from medical professionals was that the higher dosage would provide better protection for the elderly. Now, the first studies on this version of the flu shot are in, and the results are looking positive.

Higher Dose Flu Shot

The annual flu shot for seniors, known as Fluzone High-Dose, contains up to four times the amount of antigen found in the typical flu shot. Antigens are chemicals within the shot that stimulate the immune system. Previous research has shown that the increased antigens in the Fluzone produced a greater antibody reaction in seniors. This is significant because as the body ages the immune system becomes less effective.

When Fluzone High-Dose was approved by the FDA in 2009, the administration also asked for further testing to provide more rigorous proof of effectiveness for seniors, specifically for those ages 65 and older. The organization wanted proof that the higher dosage reduced the number of flu cases in the elderly. Since releasing the vaccine in 2009, the manufacturer of Fluzone has distributed nearly 21 million doses of the vaccine, and between eight to ten million more doses are expected to be delivered this season.

Flu Shot Study

The most recent study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and researchers have found that the higher dose flu shot had reduced cases of flu in the elderly by twenty-four percent when compared with the normal dosage. Scientists worked with the manufacturer of Fluzone to compare the number of flu cases reported from seniors with the higher dose vaccination and seniors who received the normal dose.

The result was a statistically significant difference between the two groups, with seniors taking the typical vaccine getting the flu more often than those taking the higher dose. These results have led experts to continue their research on flu shot vaccines. The next big task is to compare how often seniors get the flu after being vaccinated with a high dosage shot and seniors who get no flu shot at all.

Importance of Flu Shots

Experts believe that the standard flu vaccine prevents the illness around 50% of the time in older adults; however, that figure is old and more recent research has not been done on the topic. In 2012-13, the Centers for Disease Control found that the standard flu vaccine was effective for adults ages 65 and older around 27% of the time. In the 2013-14, the effectiveness for the same age group was closer to fifty percent.

Because seniors’ immune systems worsen with age, it is incredibly important to receive a flu shot every year. Medicare covers one shot of Fluzone per year, but the cost of one shot is only $28.65 per dose. The Centers for Disease Control encourages seniors to get the higher dose flu shot when they can. There have been no reports of unusual side effects from the vaccine, and all studies point to this option being more effective for older adults.

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