Are High Dose Flu Shots a Good Choice for Seniors?

If you haven’t gotten your 2011 flu shot yet, you need to be aware that seniors have some options. This year, Fluzone High Dose is being made available for people 65 years and older.

Seniors are at a much higher risk of serious illness from the flu than people in younger age groups. It stands to reason: as you grow older, your immune system becomes weaker and less able to fight back illness. This also means that the response you have to your annual flu shot will be weaker, too. Vaccines work by mimicking a natural infection, and then getting your immune system up in arms and ready to fight the enemy. They fight the weakened version of the infection that the vaccine supplies, and leave behind a supply of warrior cells with a good memory. If that flu virus ever comes back — say, in a natural, full-strength version — they won’t let it hang around for long.

This means that a typical flu shot isn’t quite as effective for seniors as it is for younger people with stronger immune systems. Consequently, a stronger version of Fluzone, the seasonal influenza vaccine, has been developed especially for people over 65. The theory is, it will give seniors a little extra protection.

However, it’s not all good news. Fluzone High-Dose may fight the flu virus harder, but that also means that you’re likely to have a stronger reaction to the injection. If you’ve had severe side-effects from flu vaccines before, the high-dose version may not be for you. The side effects that occur most frequently from flu shots — pain, redness, swelling, muscle aches, fever, and headache — would likely be more severe if you’ve been vaccinated with a high-dose version.

The problem is, you may not even know you’ve been injected with Fluzone High-Dose if you don’t ask. Doctors are pretty much using their own judgment as to which version to inject you with, and unless they’re aware that you’re in a high risk group you’re likely to get the high dosage version. That means that it’s especially important for you to take charge of your well-being by communicating openly with your doctor.

Another serious consideration is that Fluzone High-Dose was approved for use in those 65 and older only in late 2009. It will be at least three years before before its effectiveness can be reliably measured. The FDA approved Fluzone High-Dose in an accelerated review process, and studies regarding its effectiveness are still ongoing. It is believed that it is no more dangerous than the regular-dosage shot, but it is four times as strong. (That is, it contains four times as much of each antigen for the three influenza strains.) It has been shown to produce more antigens in people over 65 than a regular dosage vaccine, but it has not been reliably demonstrated that that means that they are less likely to get sick.

You should avoid the Fluzone High-Dose injection if you’ve had a serious reaction to flu vaccines in the past or if you’re allergic to egg or egg products. You should also avoid it if you have a cold, fever, or infection, or if you’ve had one recently. It’s also a bad idea to get the high dosage if you have asthma, a nervous system disorder, or blood or bleeding problems, if you have a weakened immune system, or if you’re undergoing chemotherapy. Be sure to discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor, and make sure he knows about any medications or supplements you’re taking, both prescription and over-the-counter.

Fluzone High-Dose may be just what the doctor ordered — but please be sure that your doctor completely understands your medical history.

Sources: “Fluzone High-Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine “, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; ” Patient Information Sheet: Fluzone® / Fluzone® High-Dose / Fluzone® Intradermal Influenza Virus Vaccine ” , US Food and Drug Administration; “Fluzone High-Dose Vaccine: Who Should Get It? “, American Pharmacists Association; James M. Streckelberg, M.D., “How Does Fluzone High-Dose Differ from Other Flu Vaccines? “, Mayo Clinic website; “Fluzone High Dose “,

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