About 30 UPMC outpatient physician offices and clinics are offering older patients a new option this year to ward off influenza. It’s a vaccine with four times the flu-fighting substance.
UPMC doctors ordered about 4,000 doses of the Fluzone High-Dose influenza vaccine for people age 65 and older so far this flu season. The vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen, the substance that prompts the body to produce protective flu antibiodies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that annual flu-associated deaths in the United States range from 3,000 to 49,000. The elderly are at higher risk for serious flu complications because their immune defenses are weaker. According to the CDC, the high-dose vaccine is a way to give these patients a better immune response and, in theory, better protection against the flu.
Scientists are still determining if the vaccine actually leads to less flu. An ongoing study is expected to provide the answer in 2014. The vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which found it as safe as the regular flu shot.
Scientists develop the flu vaccine every year based on the viruses that are likely to cause the most disease. In July, the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Vaccine Research announced a collaboration with vaccine maker Sanofi-Pasteur to develop a universal flu vaccine that would be effective against all strains of the flu.
If you are age 65 or over, your doctor can determine if the new Fluzone vaccine is right for you. Sometimes potential side effects, which include headache, fever and swelling at the injection site, outweigh the benefits.