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A more effective flu vaccine

Created date

September 24th, 2015
flu shot
flu shot

It’s October and thus the very beginning of the official flu season, which runs through May. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this contagious respiratory illness most often peaks between December and February. The flu vaccine becomes available as early as August, but by early November last year, only about half of the U.S. population had been vaccinated. 

Early prevention is crucial for seniors because about 50% of flu-related hospitalizations and 90% of flu-related deaths occur in the over-65 set. The 2014–2015 season was especially rough—flu-related hospitalizations among seniors were the highest since 2005 (the year the CDC began recording that data). Most hospitalized adults also had an underlying medical condition such as heart disease, chronic lung disease, or diabetes, which is one reason they are more likely to have complications from the virus. 

“Along with chronic health conditions, the immune systems of adults over age 65 are less robust than when they were younger,” says Marlene Fiume, director of practice administration for Erickson Living. “That can make them more vulnerable to the influenza virus or the complications it causes.”

Protection with minimal risk

The regular flu vaccine is made up of inactivated virus components (antigen) from three strains of the flu that scientists estimate are most likely to emerge in the upcoming season. Research shows, however, that older adults may not respond to the amount of antigen in the standard dose as well as younger adults, mainly because of the decreased immune response that accompanies the aging process. Thus, a higher-dose vaccine with more antigen was developed, tested, and made available for use in 2014. “It provides broader protection and has been shown to be about 20% more effective in preventing flu among seniors than the standard vaccine,” Fiume explains. “This vaccine also reduces your risk of pneumonia, hospitalization, and death by about 40%.” 

 As Fiume points out, the vaccine is made up of completely inactivated virus components, so you cannot get the flu from the vaccine, as some people believe. “It is possible to get some soreness in your arm where the vaccine was placed or to get a mild flu-like illness for a day or two,” says Austin Welsh, M.D., medical director at

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