Q: I've recently seen ads about a high-dose flu vaccine for adults 65 and older. Should seniors opt for this instead of the regular flu shot?
A: Our medical advisers say not until more is known about it. The new shot, called Fluzone High-Dose, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late 2009 for people age 65 and older. Compared to regular flu vaccines, it contains four times the amount of antigen, the substance in the vaccine that prompts your body to produce protective flu antibodies. Clinical trials have shown that the shot triggers higher levels of flu antibodies in older people, but it's not yet known if that translates into fewer cases of flu. A study to investigate that question is currently underway, but the results aren't expected until 2014 or later. What is known is that Fluzone High-Dose causes more side effects than the regular flu shot, including fever, headaches, malaise, muscle aches, and soreness at the injection site.
Initially we hoped this high-dose vaccine might particularly help seniors who are very ill or have compromised immune systems, but given the lack of clinical trial data, and that there is a risk of making sick people even sicker, our medical consultants don't advise it for anyone at this time. Until more is known about how protective the high-dose shot is for all seniors, the regular flu vaccine remains the best option. It has been proven to help guard against catching the flu and to lessen the severity of the infection if you do get it, reducing serious complications, hospitalization, and death.
"The benefits of the regular flu vaccine far outweigh any risks. Thousands of people die from this disease every year," says Marvin Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports chief medical adviser. "Don't be one of those who says, 'I'll take my chances.' Get your shot now."
Fluzone High-Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
Fears about the flu shot linger, our poll finds [Consumer Reports]