Who should get the high dose flu vaccine?

Family Health
Oct 22, 2019

Flu season is here and everyone needs to have a flu shot

File this under “Things you knew St. Joseph’s/Candler was going to say:” if you haven’t gotten the influenza vaccine now is the time to do so.

We stress getting the flu shot because the flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe symptoms that can last for weeks, including high fever, sore throat, muscle ache, headache and possible vomiting and diarrhea. Certain populations are even more at risk of severe symptoms, and people die every year from the flu.

Everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every flu season. Flu season typically runs from October to late April.

Dr. Michael McNeely

Related Article: Who should get the flu shot? Everyone.

For normally healthy adults under the age of 65, the standard flu shot is available to help combat the flu, says Dr. Michael McNeely, primary care physician at St. Joseph’s/Candler Physician Network Primary Care on the Islands.

Now for something we don’t talk about as often: For adults older than 65 or those at high risk of complications if they were to get the flu, a high dose flu vaccine is available.

This year’s high dose flu vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen as a standard flu shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It causes a stronger immune response and is recommended for people 65 and older and others with weakened immune systems.

“Those patients with weakened immune systems typically do not respond as well to make enough antibodies in response to the dose in a standard flu vaccine,” Dr. McNeely explains. “The high dose vaccine is a stronger version for those with weaker immune defenses.”

The high dose flu vaccine is administered via a needle injection in the arm, just as a standard flu shot. Some people may experience slightly more of the mild side effects that can occur with standard dose flu shots. Mild side effects may include pain, redness or swelling, headache or muscle ache.

Rest assured; it’s not the flu. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks for the body to develop immune protection, Dr. McNeely says. Additionally, flu vaccines do not contain live influenza viruses, Dr. McNeely adds.

Related Article: Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?

Who needs the high dose flu vaccine?

Most people who get sick with the flu will experience mild symptoms that do not require medical care and recover in less than two weeks. Some people may require a visit with their healthcare professional and antiviral medication for persistent flu symptoms.

Then there are certain populations that are more likely to get flu complications that can result in hospitalization. Pneumonia, bronchitis and respiratory failure are examples of flu-related complications, Dr. McNeely says.

“I have seen several people throughout my career die from complications of the flu,” Dr. McNeely adds. “It can be quite severe especially to people who have underlying conditions.”

Specific groups at high-risk of developing flu complications can include:

  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Pregnant women
  • Very young children
  • People with asthma
  • Those with a history of heart disease or stroke
  • People with diabetes
  • HIV/AIDS patients
  • Cancer patients
  • Children with neurologic conditions

If you or a loved one falls into any of these categories, talk to your physician or pharmacist to learn if the high dose flu shot is best for you.

Reminder to all: Get your flu shot

Age and good health is not an excuse to not get the flu shot. Anyone is vulnerable to the flu.

“I encourage people not to delay unnecessarily getting their flu shot,” Dr. McNeely says. “It’s important to understand the immune response takes about two weeks before you really get it to the level where it’s reasonable for protection. You don’t want to wait until you are in the thick of flu season or exposed to a bunch of people.”

Related Article: Parents: Has your child got a flu shot yet?

Now is the time to get your flu vaccine. The standard and high-dose flu shots are available at almost every neighborhood pharmacy, as well as most primary care offices. Both flu shots also are available through the St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Medication Management.

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