A new study in Clinical Infectious Diseases has found that enhanced flu vaccines might better protect elderly patients against the flu compared to standard-dose vaccines. Dr. Benjamin J. Cowling, the lead author of the study, says that the elderly population is disproportionately affected by the flu. This can be dangerous not only for elderly patients but also for young children as 10% of grandparents live with a grandchild.
“Influenza epidemics cause considerable health impact, and an average winter influenza season is responsible for 12,000-61,000 deaths and 140,000-810,000 hospitalizations in the US,” said Cowling. “The majority of these occur in older adults, and this age group is a particular target for influenza vaccination campaigns.”
According to the CDC, seasonal influenza activity in the U.S. has been high for the last eight weeks and activity is expected to climb. Michigan is currently the second-sickest state in the U.S. with over 7% of the state population sick with the flu. Each of these people are suffering from symptoms that can keep you bedridden, such as high fevers, headaches, body aches, coughing, and sneezing.
Despite similar symptoms, the flu is a much more dangerous virus than the common cold. Americans catch about one billion colds every year, but most people make a full recovery within about ten days with nothing to show for their sickness besides a sore nose and a garbage full of used tissues. The flu, however, can cause people to seek care at a hospital and lead to complications like pneumonia. If a case of the flu progresses to these dangerous levels, seniors can be in life-threatening danger.
Elderly patients are often more susceptible to the flu virus not only because of weakened immune systems but also because of other chronic illnesses. About 80% of seniors suffer from at least one chronic disease and 68% have two or more.
Even with regular movement and medical massages to reduce pain and keep the body active, chronic conditions can impact an elderly patient’s ability to fight off a new infection. This makes seniors more likely to end up in the hospital when infected with the flu virus.
It also makes seniors more likely to benefit from an enhanced flu vaccine.
Most patients who receive a flu vaccine receive a dosage that contains 15 micrograms each of two influenza A strains and either one or two influenza B strains. Standard-dose flu vaccines tend to be moderately effective in elderly patients, but Cowling says enhanced vaccines could offer more protection.
In the study, Cowling and his colleagues recruited 1,800 people between the ages of 65 and 82. None of the participants had received a flu vaccine for the 2017-2018 flu season, which was the season tested in the study. Three enhanced vaccines were tested in the study.
Participants were divided into 11 groups. Three groups were given a standard-dose flu vaccine, three groups were given one type of enhanced vaccine, three groups were given another type, and two groups were given the remaining enhanced vaccine.
Blood samples were collected 30 days after vaccination and analysis found that all three enhanced vaccines led to stronger immune responses compared to the standard-dose group. The findings were especially strong regarding strains of influenza A.
While it’ll be some time before enhanced flu vaccines are available to the public, Cowling says he’s confident that his study’s findings will promote further scientific advancement in the development of these vaccines.
In the meantime, health officials recommend that everyone six months and older, especially elderly patients and young children, receive a flu shot. Up to 170.7 million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed so far this season. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about passing the flu on to your pet if you’re among the 44% of U.S. households with a dog.
“I am looking forward to subsequent years of this trial,” said Cowling, “where we investigate repeat vaccination with enhanced vaccines.”