Good News for the Flu Season: Better Vaccine and a High-Dose Option

Older adults are at greater risk for serious illness and hospitalization from the flu. Fortunately, there is a high-dose formulation that offers more protection. We sat down with Libby Page from Public Health–Seattle & King County's Immunizations Program to find out the latest.

Older adults are one of the groups at higher risk for severe illness and hospitalization from flu. Is there a type of vaccine you'd recommend for this age group?

We feel that people who are sixty-five years or older should get a high dose flu vaccine if it's available to them. The high dose vaccine has been found to be 24 percent more effective in preventing flu. It has four times as much antigen as the regular flu shot. Because it's a higher dose, you are more likely to experience some common side effects during the week after you get the shot, such as fatigue, soreness at the injection site, and fever. That's pretty typical with the high dose, but for most people, it's a better alternative than getting a full-blown case of the flu.

Last year's flu vaccine wasn't a good match for the most common flu strain that circulated. What are you expecting for this year?

We have a saying: "If you've seen one flu season, you've seen one flu season." It's hard to predict exactly which strains will be most common here, but so far the CDC has found this season's vaccine to be a good match for all the flu strains that have been circulating in the Southern hemisphere. So all signs indicate that it's a good match for this season.

We heard that there's a new type of vaccine that could be helpful for people who don't like needles.

Yes, there is a new intradermal shot that is just a light prick with a microneedle. It goes under the skin but not into the muscle. The microneedle is only 1.5 mm long—that's the thickness of a penny! The intradermal shot is available for adults 18–64 years of age but not all pharmacies or health care providers carry the intradermal shot. I recommend calling ahead to confirm product availability.

People always want to know: can you get the flu from the flu shot?

No. The injectable flu shots have no flu viruses, just proteins from flu viruses to stimulate the immune system. And the nasal flu vaccine contains a weakened flu virus that stimulates the immune system but does not cause influenza illness because it can only replicate in the nose. But occasionally people feel like they have symptoms after getting a vaccine. There are a couple of reasons this happens:

  1. When the vaccine stimulates the immune system to generate protection against influenza, it can cause side effects that seem like a mild version of the flu, such as fatigue, muscle aches, low-grade fever, or headaches. This is relatively common, but usually lasts a day or two. But it's not the same as getting the flu, which is much more severe, lasts much longer, and is contagious.
  2. It's possible that the person already had been infected with a flu or cold virus before they got the vaccine and the appearance of symptoms happened to coincide with the timing of the vaccine

HealthMap Vaccine Finder is a free, online service where users can search for locations that offer immunizations. The map above illustrates locations within a short distance of Bellevue, WA. Enter any U.S. address for other locations.

What's your personal reason for getting a flu vaccination?

For me, I know I'm not just protecting myself. I get it to protect my children, especially my child who's asthmatic. I get it to protect my parents now that they're in a high risk group. So I get vaccinated for the people I care about, and also for co-workers or even those complete strangers on the bus who might be more vulnerable, like pregnant women, infants, or people with weakened immune systems. I don't want to risk spreading flu to someone who might end up in the hospital.

And it's practical. I don't want to miss work and I don't want be sick while I'm traveling. I just don't have time to be flattened by the flu!

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