Flu Season Brings Stronger Vaccines And Revised Advice
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Every flu season health officials estimate 1 in 5 Americans will get the virus. This year there are new federal guidelines and developments in vaccines and as NPR's Patti Neighmond reports, they could strengthen immunity for young children and people over 65, who are most susceptible.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Flu symptoms are familiar - fever, chills, cough, congestion, feeling very, very tired. If you're a healthy adult under 65 you'll likely recover in a week or two, but for those over 65 things can get worst fast, says Dr. Keipp Talbot, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
KEIPP TALBOT: It's not a cold. It's not the chills. It's not a runny nose, but for many people it can be hospitalization and pneumonia, worsening heart failure.
NEIGHMOND: Complications like this hospitalize more than 200,000 older adults every year and thousands die.
TALBOT: As we age so does our immune system.
NEIGHMOND: On top of that, age-related health problems increase susceptibility.
TALBOT: High blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and so we're at much greater risk of having hospitalizations or pneumonia if we develop influenza as we age.
NEIGHMOND: But a new supersized vaccine could change things. Fluzone High-Dose was approved by the Food and Drug Administration four years ago. It proved safe and effective, boosting the number of antibodies to fight the flu, but the FDA wanted to know if it actually prevented people from getting sick. It asked the manufacturer to do another study.
Keipp Talbot headed the study. Thirty-two thousand people over 65 were divided into two groups. One received the standard vaccine, the other got a dose four times higher.
TALBOT: We found that the high dose was 24 percent more effective than the standard dose at preventing influenza, any influenza, no matter what circulated, no matter what strain it was.
NEIGHMOND: People said their arms were a little more sore with the high dose, but there were no other serious side effects. As it is now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issues guidance about how vaccines should be used, is evaluating whether to recommend the high dose for older people. At the other end of the age spectrum, this is the first flu season CDC officials say children between the ages of 2 and 8 should get the vaccine in nasal spray form instead of the shot.
Dr. William Schaffner with Vanderbilt University Medical School.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: The influenza virus can change genetically and be slightly different and it would appear as though the mist provides broader coverage against these altered strains that might be around.
NEIGHMOND: Schaffner says the mist is made with live flu virus and mimics a real infection, thereby boosting the body's immune response, but recently there have been concerns about whether it was truly effective last year against the common H1N1 flu strain. Health officials are investigating. Until more is known, pediatrician Henry Bernstein with the American Academy of Pediatrics says there should be no preference for the mist.
HENRY BERNSTEIN: Healthy children ages 2-8 years may be immunized with either the shot or the intranasal vaccine. There is no preference for one versus the other.
NEIGHMOND: Whether mist or injection, federal guidelines say everyone over the age of 6 months should get vaccinated against the flu - especially, says William Schaffner, pregnant women.
SCHAFFNER: The protection that the woman builds up passes through the placenta and goes into the newborn baby and helps protect that newborn baby during the first 6 months of its life when the baby is too young to be vaccinated itself and so there's a double reason to vaccinate pregnant women.
NEIGHMOND: This year, Schaffner says, there appears to be a rise in the number of people getting their flu vaccine early. That may be due to worries about Ebola. Of course, the flu vaccine has no effect on Ebola and Ebola isn't circulating in the U.S. but if it means more people are getting vaccinated against the far more common flu virus then Schaffner says, all the better. Patti Neighmond, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.