Harvard Men's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: High-dose flu vaccine: Is it better?

Ask the doctor

Q. I heard there is a high-dose flu vaccine that could work better in older people. Is it safe even if a man has a medical problem like cancer or heart disease?

A. The high-dose flu vaccine is very similar to the standard flu vaccine but appears to provide slightly better protection against influenza. Both vaccines target three different strains of the flu virus, selected from the most common strains predicted to be circulating that year. The viruses are inactivated, or killed, so they cannot cause the flu, even in people with weakened immune systems. Finally, both vaccines can cause mild symptoms of arm pain, redness, muscle aches, or low-grade fever. Although most people have minimal to no symptoms, the high-dose vaccine may slightly increase the side effects.

The high-dose vaccine contains a higher concentration of the virus, so it leads to a greater immune (antibody) response. In a recent study, people over 65 years old who received the high-dose vaccine were less likely to have a flu-like illness. The absolute difference was small (a decrease from 1.9% to 1.4% infected), but this adds up when applied to a large population.

The most important thing is to be vaccinated—regardless of the vaccine you get—preferably by early October. Any vaccine offers more protection than nothing.

-- William Kormos, M.D.,
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men's Health Watch