Flu is the nickname for the illness caused by the sometimes deadly influenza virus. The Flu is considered to be a “cold” and is often dismissed as inevitable and since one has recovered completely so many times, just another nuisance. However, each year tens of thousands of people die because of those guys, not to mention the severe illnesses they cause. And about 80% of these deaths are in the elderly. The death toll is not accurate because Flu may not appear on the death certificate.
The best defense against the flu clearly is to get vaccinated, yearly.1 The flu vaccine is the least effective among the common vaccines because there are over 20 flu types of A and B subsets but the CDC selects 3 or 4 strains to protect against each year based on predictions of which strains will cause the most problems. Also, a significant number of those immunized, especially seniors, will not make sufficient antibodies to provide immunity.
The same type of vaccine has been given since 1945 but now there are two newer flu vaccines to choose from with special attributes. The standard vaccine dose provides immunity against 3 strains of the virus and a newer high-dose type has the same 3 antigens except the dose of antigen is 4 times stronger.1 The high-dose vaccine is formulated to maximally stimulate the immune system which is especially beneficial in those with weak immune systems─ mostly older folks. However, in a large study, the high-dose vaccine was 24% more effective in preventing the flu in recipients over 65 years.2 A comparison of the effectiveness of the 3 strain to the 4 strain does not show a difference.3 Considering these facts, older people should probably choose the high-dose shot.
Timing of the vaccination is important because the effectiveness begins to diminish after six months.4 Since the peak season for infections starts in December becoming worst usually during the Christmas-New-Year’s holidays and maximum immunity takes a month to 6 weeks to achieve, the last half of October is the best time to be vaccinated. Get with the program!
1. CDC. “What You Should Know and Do This Flu Season If You Are 65 Years and Older.” In, (2016).
2. DiazGranados, C. A., A. J. Dunning, M. Kimmel, D. Kirby, J. Treanor, A. Collins, R. Pollak, et al. “Efficacy of High-Dose Versus Standard-Dose Influenza Vaccine in Older Adults.” [In eng]. N Engl J Med 371, no. 7 (Aug 14 2014): 635-45.
3. Milne, G. J., N. Halder, J. K. Kelso, I. G. Barr, J. Moyes, K. Kahn, R. Twine, and C. Cohen. “Trivalent and Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccination Effectiveness in Australia and South Africa: Results from a Modelling Study.” [In eng]. Influenza Other Respir Viruses 10, no. 4 (Jul 2016): 324-32.
4. Radin, J. M., A. W. Hawksworth, C. A. Myers, M. N. Ricketts, E. A. Hansen, and G. T. Brice. “Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness: Maintained Protection Throughout the Duration of Influenza Seasons 2010-2011 through 2013-2014.” [In eng]. Vaccine 34, no. 33 (Jul 19 2016): 3907-12.