Flu season is coming around again and so we roll up our sleeves for the traditional jab. But wait, this year it’s not the same old, same old shot.
This year there is a special super-powered flu vaccine made specifically for geezers. It’s got four times the antigens of the regular shot. (Antigens are what set off antibodies. Antibodies are the good guys that fight disease. Older people with their diminished immune systems need all the antibodies they can get.)
This vaccine is called Fluzone High-Dose and where I live in CA, it’s available for older adults now. Docs and hospitals are likely to have it and note this—so are Safeway and Walgreens. The last two are part of an emerging pattern of vaccine distribution through supermarkets and drugstores.
Expect to see more and more retail establishments signing on as flu shot distributors this year because it’s a profit leader—profit not just from the shot, but from the other things customers buy when they come in to be vaccinated. This development is good for all of us because it means easier access to preventive care, no fussing with doctor visits and picking up a quart of milk and a shot of vaccine in one place—Stop & Shot.
If you have silver hair (or silver roots), Medicare should pay for the shot.
This is a new vaccine. Nobody yet knows if it will work better than the regular flu shot. In theory, it should. What is known so far is that it prompts more antibodies. In the face of the yearly flu season, that increase in antibodies was enough to win approval from the FDA for distribution to older adults. Interestingly, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that it takes no stance on which flu shot to recommend. They will only say to get one.
The real-world results of Fluzone High-Dose will not be known until 2012. Some people will want this vaccine now because of its greater power to produce antibodies. Others may choose to wait and see its actual record in preventing illness and mortality, aka death. It’s really up to you, your medical advisor and, I suspect, whether the girl at the drugstore counter in Walgreens tells you it’s run out already.
They are reported to be about the same as the side effects of regular flu shots—soreness and swelling at the injection site, headache, malaise and fever. Actually, slightly more people reported these effects compared to the regular shot, but the CDC paper on the subject claims that “most people had minimal or no adverse events”. What I don’t get is why, if the vaccine is made from killed virus, why viralesque symptoms follow the shot.
Is a mystery.
Of course, if you are allergic to eggs or have had a severe reaction to other flu shots, the CDC does not recommend this vaccine. In that case, console yourself with the proven effectiveness of hand washing and keeping your hands away from your face. The traditional advice over the years has also been to stay out of crowds. Lots of luck on that.