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Do older women need a high-dose flu vaccine? From the September 2014 Harvard Women's Health Watch

— For some older women, the flu is a far more than a fever and sniffles that sidelines them for a few days. It can lead to serious complications like bronchitis and pneumonia. The flu can also worsen existing conditions such as heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. A higher-dose flu vaccine has been available since 2009 for adults 65 and over, but questions remain as to whether it can protect better than the traditional vaccine, according to the September 2014, Harvard Women's Health Watch.

The high-dose vaccine is called Fluzone High-Dose. Like the regular-dose flu vaccine, it contains the three flu strains experts believe will be most abundant in the upcoming flu season. But it also contains four times the usual amount of immune-stimulating antigens against the virus.

Should people over 65 get the high-dose vaccine? It's an area of debate and discussion, and so worth talking about with your physician, says Dr. Elisa Choi, a clinical instructor in population medicine at Harvard Medical School and an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. Some studies have found that the high-dose vaccine stimulates a higher immune system response in the lab, but it isn't yet clear whether that translates into better protection against the flu in the real world.

The high-dose vaccine also comes with some downsides worth considering: more pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, as well as body-wide side effects like muscle pain, headache, and fever. Most of these effects are mild and short-lived.

There are currently no official recommendations advising seniors to switch to the high-dose flu vaccine.

The type of vaccine isn't nearly as important as getting vaccinated as early in the flu season as possible. Flu outbreaks can start in October, and it takes two weeks after getting the shot for the body to produce antibodies against the virus. Some people hold off on vaccination out of concern that the protection wanes over time, but the shot should provide protection for the entire flu season.

Read the full-length article: "Time for your flu vaccine: Do you need a higher dose?"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch

  • Time for your flu vaccine: Do you need a higher dose?
  • Ask the doctor: Can I treat myself for a yeast infection?
  • Ask the doctor: Should I keep taking sleeping pills?
  • Get on your feet: 8 creative ways to avoid too much sitting
  • Where did I put that? Tips to improve your memory
  • What to do about thinning hair
  • Why snoring could be a sign your heart is at risk
  • Got milk? It might help your arthritis
  • An exercise program can keep you moving
  • Could protein lower stroke risk?

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.