Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Flu Season Update: Where the Virus Is Hitting and What Shots Are in Short Supply

Shortages are being reported in some areas for the higher-dose influenza vaccine given to people over the age of 65.
Flu illnesses are already showing up in some parts of the country, in particular the southern and southeastern regions.
Manufacturers have told health officials that deliveries of the regular flu vaccine are on schedule despite a delay in September to adjust the formula.

As the flu season begins across the United States, some older adults are having trouble accessing the high-dose flu vaccine designed for those over the age of 65.

The high-dose flu vaccine, called Fluzone High-DoseTrusted Source, is made especially for older adults. It contains four times the amount of antigen than the standard flu vaccination.

Antigen helps the body build protection against the flu virus. In higher doses, it gives those over 65 a better immune response and more protection against influenza.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee, says the shortages aren’t widespread at this stage.

“At the moment it appears to be spot shortages, not a general shortage yet. Senior citizens are now getting more educated about the advantages of either high-dose or adjuvanted vaccine, and as they seek it out, some doctors and pharmacies will run out. But they will have to go to another pharmacy to find it,” Schaffner told Healthline.

People over 65 are at a higher risk for serious complications from the flu. Experts say if an older adult is yet to be vaccinated, they should do so as soon as possible.

“If a senior can’t find the high-dosage vaccine, they should take the regular vaccine now. ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,’ as the old saying goes,” Stephen Morse, PhD, an expert in influenza and infectious diseases at Columbia University in New York, told Healthline.

“We know the immune system usually doesn’t respond as strongly in the elderly as in young adults, so they often don’t fight off the infection as well,” he said.

Morse notes that older adults may also be more likely to have other medical conditions that can make it easier to catch the flu or make flu symptoms stronger.

“Seniors living in nursing homes or wherever there’s a high density of older people are at higher risk,” Morse said.

“Seniors and people caring for them should get the flu vaccine early in the season. They should be watchful for respiratory infections and get medical attention if the illness feels worse than the ordinary flu or starts taking a sudden turn for the worse,” he added.

In most flu seasons, those aged 65 and older experience the greatest burden of disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source estimates that 70 to 85 percent of flu-related deaths occur in senior citizens, as well as 50 to 70 percent of hospitalizations due to flu.

Flu already hitting some regions

So far, there have been scattered cases of influenza across the United States.

The southern and southeastern parts of the country have seen some increases in flu activity, with Puerto Rico and Louisiana experiencing high levelsTrusted Source of influenza-like illness. The deaths of two children have been reported to the CDC this season as well.

Schaffner attended a meeting about influenza at the CDC last week. He says authorities are closely following some unusual patterns seen so far this season.

“There’s already one unusual pattern that has cropped up. Influenza B strains are usually prominent late in the season, but in the southeast part of the country, these strains are prominent early. Nobody’s seen that before, and everyone’s scratching their heads,” he said.

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