Changes Aim To Beef Up Flu Vaccine

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Changes to the vaccine aim to give an extra dose of protection to those most at risk for complications.

Experts say last season's flu vaccine was very effective, with the notable exception of the elderly.

Dr. Jo-ann Harris, an infectious disease specialist at Stormont-Vail HealthCare in Topeka, says senior citizens always are more at risk during flu season because as people get older, they lose their ability to fight infection and immunity drops.

The Centers for Disease Control says 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths in the United State are in people ages 65 and older.

To give them a better shot at protection, a high-dose flu vaccine is now available. Harris says the formulation increases the antigens in an effort to stimulate more immunity in the elderly. All Cotton-O'Neil patients over age 65 who come in for their flu vaccine will automatically get the high-dose version.

The flu mist nasal vaccine also got a makeover this year. Traditionally, both the mist and shot contained three influenza strains which the CDC predicts will be most prevalent in a season. The flu mist offered this year contains four. Harris says that makes it more likely to cover the types of flu that are circulating.

Harris says the flu mist isn't for everyone since it's a live form of the virus, but people up to age 49 who are able can get it and are encouraged to take the option this year since it offers better protection.

Harris says a form of the flu shot that contains four viruses has been created, but is not as widely available. She says an egg-free form of influenza vaccine also is available. People with egg allergies should ask their doctor about it.

There's no forecast on just how bad this year's flu season will be. While it usually doesn't peak until late January, it can start as soon as October, so the time to get your vaccine is now. Harris says people who get the vaccine can still get the flu, but it will be a milder illness than if they didn't get immunized.

"It's much better to be prepared and get the immunity up and running before the flu hits the area," Harris said.