Study: Boosted flu vaccine benefits elderly in care facilities

A study finds that the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine benefits elderly residents in long-term care facilities.
A study finds that the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine benefits elderly residents in long-term care facilities. | Contributed photo

A study published Thursday finds that the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, which contains four times more antigens than the regular vaccine, benefits elderly recipients who live in long-term care facilities.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently completed the first study of high-dose vaccines for elderly in care facilities.

"The elderly living in long-term care facilities have higher influenza-exposure risks, lower immune defenses and a much greater likelihood of flu-related death than the general population," Dr. David Nace -- lead author of the study, director of long-term care and flu programs at Pitt's Division of Geriatric Medicine, and chief medical officer for UPMC Senior Communities -- said. "For these reasons, we need more effective flu-vaccine options for frail, older adults.”

Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that between 3,000 and 49,000 U.S. deaths are caused by influenza each year, with 90 percent at or above 65 years old.

Results showed that the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine induced a stronger immune response than the regular flu shot, giving patients better protection against influenza. The only exception is the influenza strain from the 2012-2013 flu season.

Nace and his research team studied the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 flu seasons. Their subjects included 187 people in western Pennsylvania who lived in 15 long-term, community-based care facilities. The average age of the subjects was 86.7 years old. The researchers chose participants who need assistance with daily tasks, such as dressing, to ensure that the subjects were considered frail.

Then researchers selected subjects at random to receive standard flu shots or the high-dose flu vaccine at the beginning of flu season. At days 30 and 180, the scientists tested the patients for their immune response. They found that the subjects with the high-dose vaccine had a greater immune response than the patients who received the standard vaccine.

The study did not chronicle which subjects actually became sick with the flu after receiving the high-dose vaccine.

"The high-dose vaccine is not a guarantee against contracting the flu, even though it significantly decreases the likelihood," Nace said. "That is why it is so important to take a 'bundled approach' to preventing flu in long-term care facilities, including vaccination of health care workers, asking people with flu-like illnesses not to visit residents, practicing proper cough etiquette and hand hygiene, and frequent sanitation of commonly used areas and equipment."

More details about the study can be found in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The research was funded by Sanofi Pasteur, a biopharmaceutical company that creates vaccines, including the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine.