High-Dose Flu Vaccine May Provide Better Protection for Those in Long-Term Care Facilities

Dec 18, 2014

When it comes to protecting those most vulnerable to influenza, a high-dose flu vaccine may be most effective.

That’s according to the findings of a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine which found that giving a high-dose vaccine to elderly people in long-term care facilities helped build immunity. Each year in the U.S. there are 3,000 to 49,000 influenza-related deaths.

“Ninety percent of the deaths related to influenza are people 65 years of age and older, and if you look at that population, it’s primarily those who are frail,” said Dr. David Nace, lead author and chief medical officer for UPMC Senior Communities.

The study found that – with the exception of one strain of flu circulating in the 2012-2013 season – the high-dose vaccine helped patients mount a better immune response to influenza compared to the standard flu shot. A high-dose vaccine contains four times the amount of influenza vaccine than the regular dose.

“The thought is that if you add a higher dose, you might get a better immune response and that’s what this study really look at, and it looks like it does,” said Nace.

During two of the most recent flu seasons, 187 people in long-term care facilities in the region were part of the study. These include nursing facilities, assisted or personal care homes and independent living facilities. According to a UPMC news release, participants were randomly selected to receive either a high-dose or standard flu shot at the beginning of the flu season. They were then tested for their antibody response 30 and 180 days after receiving the shot.

With talk of the flu vaccine comes the prevailing myth that you can get the flu from the shot, and when you add the term “high-dose” concerns can mount, but Nace said a person cannot get the flu from a flu shot.

“The flu vaccine is one of the safest medical interventions we have,” he said. “It’s actually safer than most of our blood pressure medicines.”

This year, the flu vaccine is not as effective thank to a strain mutation, but Nace said that doesn’t mean the vaccine is completely ineffective.

“We are seeing a lot of cases of flu, but we are not seeing a lot of cases of serious, critical illness,” said Nace, “which means that either the strain is not covered is not particularly virulent or it means the vaccine is having some protection, even though it might not be the full protection.”

While Nace said the flu vaccine is the best protection against the illness, there are others steps that can be taken as well.

“Cover your cough, you know, don’t cough in other peoples’ faces,” he said. “It’s best to cough into your elbow. Make sure you wash your hands frequently, the other thing that we always tell people to do – if you’re nursing home staff — is to always be looking for flu.”

Plus, he said nurses and other caregivers are encouraged to get vaccinated and stay away from patients if they (the worker) becomes sick.

The study was publishes in the Journal of Infectious Diseases; additional coauthors on this study are Ted M. Ross, Ph.D., of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute of Florida, Chyongchiou Lin, Ph,D., Stacey Saracco, R.N., and Roberta M. Churilla, R.N., C.R.N.P., all from the University of Pittsburgh.