High-Dose Flu Vaccine Could Help With Chronic Conditions

The high-dose flu vaccine used to treat elderly people could help middle-aged adults with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, according to research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The findings, published online in the medical journal Vaccine, recommend clinical trials of the high-dose vaccine in 50- to 64-year-old adults with chronic illnesses, including heart or lung disease, diabetes or cancer.

“Persons who have these conditions have a much greater risk of the flu being more severe to the point of needing to be hospitalized,” Dr. Ken Smith, professor of medicine at Pitt and co-author of the paper, told the Tribune-Review on Thursday. “If you are hospitalized with the flu, your risk of dying is certainly something that is a possibility.”

Middle-aged people who contract the flu but don’t have those conditions will still suffer from a rough illness, but they won’t have as many potential health risks, Smith said.

The high-dose vaccine is recommended for the elderly population because their immune response to the standard-dose vaccine lessens as they age. However, the price for a standard dose is about $11, while the stronger vaccine is about $31 per dose, Smith said. He said the dose for the elderly is about 24 percent stronger than a standard vaccine.

Between 12,000 and 56,000 people die annually in the United States from the flu, and up to 35.6 million people are infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Smith and his colleagues analyzed data to explore the cost-effectiveness of using the stronger vaccine for middle-aged adults with the conditions.

“The growing proportion of middle-aged adults with chronic health conditions coupled with the modest effectiveness of the standard-dose influenza vaccine prompted us to explore whether existing vaccines already recommended for the elderly also could protect younger people,” lead author Jonathan Raviotta, senior research specialist with The Pittsburgh Vaccination Research Group (PittVax) in Pitt’s School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Sure enough, expanding the recommendation does seem like a good policy. … Before making such a recommendation, real world clinical trials are needed.”

Flu season generally starts in mid-October and lasts into spring. Common symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, headaches and severe fatigue.