New High-Dose Flu Shot Protects Seniors

November 18, 2010 139 comments

There’s a new flu shot in town — one that’s four times as strong as its predecessor and is targeted at protecting senior citizens.

Why is the new shot so powerful?

Scientists and doctors believe that a high-dose flu vaccine will jump-start senior citizens’ immune response and provide them better protection from the virus.

Researchers have discovered that, as the body ages, the immune system doesn’t respond as much as it needs to to the typical vaccination. By quadrupling the number of antigens, doctors hope that the new shot’s immune boost will result in fewer deaths and serious cases of flu among the elderly.

Marge obviously doesn’t enjoy needles very much.

Although the shot is new — and some doctors are unsure whether to recommend it — the medical team at Centra Care is urging senior citizens to try the new high-dose vaccination. They’re claiming it could save lives.

“This is the first year it’s available,” said Dr. Tim Hendrix, medical director at Centra Care, Florida Hospital’s chain of urgent-care centers. “We anticipate it will give a better response than the typical flu shot. The idea is to maximize protection for older people.”

The FDA approved the new high-dose flu vaccine in April, but it is being rolled out this fall for the current flu season. Produced by Sanofi Pasteur, the new high-dose vaccine contains the same inactivated virus as the standard seasonal vaccine, but in a larger dose. The larger dose also comes with a heftier price tag.

The FDA reported that the most common side effects were mild and temporary and included pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, as well as headache, muscle aches, fever and malaise. Most patients, the FDA said, had minimal or no adverse side effects after receiving the high-dose shot.

“With any vaccine, you can have pain, redness, swelling, even low-grade fever and aching,” said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, a vaccinologist and infectious disease expert at the University of Florida. “And even though the reactions to the high-dose vaccine were higher, they were deemed acceptable.”

Of course, “acceptable” may be in the eye of the beholder, he added.

So how do you know if you should get the high-dose vaccine or the standard flu shot? Rathore suggests seniors recall how they’ve reacted to previous flu shots.

“If you’re somebody who has a reaction from the low-dose vaccine, then I would stick with the low-dose. But if you’ve been taking the vaccine for years and have no reaction, get the high-dose vaccine. Or if there’s nothing else available except the high-dose vaccine, get the high dose,” Rathore said. “The most important thing is: Get the vaccine. It doesn’t matter which one.”

Not everyone in the medical community happens to be a fan of the new flu shot. Dr. Bradley Bender, chief of staff for the North Florida-South Georgia Veterans Affairs health system, notes that the studies on the new vaccine have shown that seniors’ immune systems reacted better to the new high-dose flu shot, but no studies have shown that it’s more effective at preventing the flu.

In addition, he notes that the better immune response comes at a cost. “There are higher rates of adverse events from it, though mostly this is more sore arms and muscle aches,” Bender said. “It is also about twice as expensive.

At Centra Care, the high-dose flu shot costs $32, while the cost of the low-dose or standard flu shot is $20. There is no charge for patients with Medicare Part B, Centra Care officials said.

Because neither the government’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices nor the CDC has expressed a preference for which vaccine should be used, most clinicians must decide on their own.

“At the VA, we are offering the low-dose vaccine, but have high-dose available if a patient requests it. We let them know that it is anticipated to hurt more if they get it,” Bender said.

With the number of flu cases starting to increase in Central Florida — where the flu typically peaks in February — doctors are urging everyone to get a flu shot no matter what its strength.

Those who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs or who have had a severe reaction to flu vaccines in the past should not get a flu shot, according to the CDC.

“Obviously, the primary goal is to vaccinate people who are at high-risk. But everybody else should get the vaccine, too — when there aren’t shortages,” Hendrix said.

“There are really two reasons: First, the flu will take you out of work for a week. And second, if you have the flu, you’re going to spread it to other people — and they may be at high risk. The responsible thing to do is get the flu shot.”

Can The Shingles Vaccine Have Me Infect Others?

November 12, 2010 20 comments

We had a reader question this week. It was interesting enough for us to want to post it on this blog (with our reader’s consent, of course). Read below.

Reader Question: I am a 59-year-old female who had a severe case of chickenpox as a child. It has been recommended that I get a shingles vaccination after my 60th birthday. However, my husband never had chickenpox, and I have a 1-month-old granddaughter. Are my husband and granddaughter at risk for becoming infected when I get the vaccine?

The shingles vaccine Zostavax contains live but a weakened version of the virus. Transmission of the vaccine virus from someone who just received it is theoretically possible, but actually is a rare event. Your husband’s chances of catching the vaccine virus are very close to zero.

Although your husband says he never had chickenpox, 99 percent of adults bear evidence in their blood that they did have childhood chickenpox. Many of these people have no recollection of being sick. That might be because the infection was so mild that they never knew they were infected. Furthermore, all adults, whether they remember they had chickenpox or not, are urged to have the vaccine after their 60th birthday. Your husband can get the shot along with you.

As far as your 1-month-old grandchild goes, her chance of catching the virus from a recently immunized person is small as well. However, you can eliminate the risk completely by waiting to have your immunization until your granddaughter gets her chickenpox immunization at 12 months old; you don’t have to be immunized on the day you turn 60. Or you can be immunized before your granddaughter gets her chickenpox vaccine, and then wait to hold her and care for her for two or three weeks after you have the shot.

We hope this information helps a lot of you out there.

Seniors Receive Wrong Information on Whooping Cough Vaccine

November 4, 2010 59 comments

There seems to be a national confusion surrounding seniors and the very necessary whooping cough vaccine that they often require. Apparently, doctors are choosing to not administer the vaccine due to safety concerns around the new higher doses comprised in the shot.

Because research on seniors is supposedly out of date, the higher dose vaccine was considered completely necessary by the Department of Public Health. However, what the research doesn’t show is that the higher dose comes alongside a plethora of potential side effects, a higher price tag, and reluctant doctors.

Watch out for the return of the whooping cough.

So, now doctors and senior patients are left in heated discussions to weigh their options. Since the whooping cough can be a serious sickness, a solution usually comes about after both parties understand the needed dose and file a certified report on the amount the patient needs to maintain optimum health.

This process might sound too tedious and unnecessary, but this is just how the health system has been built. At Passport Health Orlando, we abide by all regulations and most importantly, put the health and well-being of our clients first.

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